The iPhone, despite aggressive attempts to block such efforts by AT&T (with Apple’s help), did occasionally offer some apps that actually managed to save users some money in one way or another. For instance, for a while, people could tether their phones to their computers in order to share the data connection without having to pay an additional, expensive fee to AT&T or getting a separate dongle and data subscription. And, for a brief time, you could also send unlimited, free text messages using your data connection, in case you didn’t have an SMS option attached to your subscription.
I say for a brief time because Infinite SMS, one of the apps that allowed you to do this, was recently informed that the service they provided would no longer be available. They were not, however, cut off by Apple, as might be expected. Instead, the bad news came from Google, whose Google Talk service they were taking advantage of to offer free, web-based SMS to buyers of their own app.
When it was available for purchase, Infinite SMS cost 99 cents per download, but its developers (Inner Fence) have now removed it from the App Store, saying they could not leave it up in good conscience. They are not, however, planning to offer a refund program to those who’ve already purchased the app. That probably leaves a significant number of people out a dollar, since the app quickly rose to the Top 10 list of paid apps.
Google explained why they decided to close off access from Infinite SMS and other similar applications in a statement released Wednesday.
Infinite SMS is a third-party app that has been using Google technology to provide free SMS for users, while we were paying for the cost of the text messages. While Google is supportive of third-party apps, we’ve decided we can’t support this particular usage of our system at this time. SMS chat is still just an experiment in the early testing stages in Gmail Labs. We’re blocking all external XMPP clients from sending SMS; we’re not singling out Inner Fence.
Other applications, like Textfree Unlimited ($5.99, iTunes link), another Top 10 paid app, still offer free text messaging, since they don’t depend on Google Talk for transferring messages.
We’ve seen before how friendly the relationship between Google and Apple is, despite the two companies having competing smartphone platforms. To me, Google’s excuse doesn’t pass the sniff test. Instead, I think they’ve been asked by Apple (with AT&T’s urging) to cut off the service in order to try to corral users back into using cellular SMS plans. There’s more than one way to reject an app, after all, and this one draws far less negative attention. We’ll see how long Textfree Unlimited can continue plying its trade before someone figures out how to close that back door, too.