Asking people what the best iPhone carrier is usually leads to a number of thoroughly unscientific and subjective responses. For example, one person might recommend AT&T simply because they’re locked into a two-year contract with Ma Bell and don’t want to admit they made a mistake. Someone on Sprint, on the other hand, might recommend their network for the “unlimited data” to someone for whom speed — not volume — is the most important criterion.
CarrierCompare is a new iOS app that aims to moderate the debate by allowing you to see what the best iPhone carrier is at any given location. But right now, Apple’s stamping down on a key feature that makes the app less useful than it could be.
Here’s how it works. Downloading CarrierCompare, you install it and run the app, which starts a speed test on your current iPhone. It then compares that data to crowdsourced information from other iPhones in the area, then gives you an average speed for all the networks in your area: Sprint, Verizon and AT&T.
The biggest problem with the app is that while it is great comparing data speeds, Apple won’t let the app compare signal strength. CarrierCompare’s devs, SwayMarkets, say that they “had to remove signal strength from CarrierCompare to remain in compliance with our developer agreement with Apple and avoid having our apps pulled from the app Store entirely.”
Sounds a bit weird, doesn’t it? Why would Apple have an issue with comparing signal strength across carriers?
It all has to do with the aftermath of Antennagate, in which Apple has waged an ongoing campaign to downplay the importance of iOS’s reception bars, even going as far as “fixing” the iPhone 4’s reception issues by just making the signal bars bigger. Apple doesn’t want an Antennagate II: users comparing and contrasting signal strength — which, unlike data transfers speeds, may or may not affect actual call quality — is an invitation to another PR fiasco.
Either way, CarrierCompare is an interesting and useful app. The only trick is that you need access to an iPhone to use the app, which makes it mostly of interest to would-be network switchers and evangelists.