One of the more interesting recent questions in the iPhone geek circle: Is Google’s (GOOG) neat, newish voice-powered iPhone search feature quietly breaking Apple’s (AAPL) App Store rules? Yes. iPhone programmers figured out quickly that Google was using non-“public” code in its iPhone app, which is officially against Apple’s rules.
Meanwhile, CNet scribe Tom Krazit thought to pick up the phone and see what Google had to say. He writes: “A Google spokesman confirmed Tuesday that Google Mobile uses undocumented APIs (application programming interfaces) in order to use the iPhone’s proximity sensor to prompt a verbal search.”
Translation: Apple’s iPhone coders have a published list of “public” functions they’re allowed to access when writing iPhone apps. The code Google used to get its app to start recording your voice when you put your phone next to your face was “undocumented” code, not part of that published list. It works, but isn’t in Apple’s official list of functions, so it’s not supposed to be in anyone’s app.
What does this mean?
The biggest practical problem could be if Apple disables that “undocumented” function in the future, which might break Google’s app. A more political problem: Now that Google has admitted it skirted Apple’s rules, will Apple enforce them against one of its most important partners? Or will it let the useful but sneaky feature live — at the risk of setting a precedent of favoritism? (Or will it even make the undocumented code public?)
Apparently, such behaviour isn’t rare, anyway: Daring Fireball’s John Gruber notes that “occasional use of undocumented methods in public iPhone frameworks is actually pretty common in third-party iPhone apps.”
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