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Summary:

[qi:gigaom_icon_voip] Updated: This morning’s tempest in the teapot involves Google Voice apps being rejected by Apple’s iPhone store. iPhone App Developer Sean Kovacs says his GV mobile app was pulled and since then several others have been rejected by Apple as well. Even Google’s official app […]

[qi:gigaom_icon_voip] Updated: This morning’s tempest in the teapot involves Google Voice apps being rejected by Apple’s iPhone store. iPhone App Developer Sean Kovacs says his GV mobile app was pulled and since then several others have been rejected by Apple as well. Even Google’s official app has been turned down, because apparently it “duplicates features that come with the iPhone.” Some allege that Apple is doing this at AT&T’s behest.

That is just flat-out wrong: If it were true, then Google Voice would be banned on BlackBerry devices that use AT&T as well. As of this morning, everything is working fine on my AT&T-connected Bold (except for the usual dropped calls, of course). And are people forgetting that you need AT&T’s voice network to send and receive Google Voice calls?

As I wrote in my post, Meet Google, Your Phone Company:

The mobile app for Google Voice uses the regular PSTN connection to place a call to Google Voice, which then places a call out to the person you need to reach. Since these calls (and SMS messages) originate from your Google Voice, they display your Google Voice number for the recipients. The service needs a data connection but it isn’t necessary to have a Wi-Fi connection to place and receive calls. The wireless number you buy from the cell phone company becomes less relevant.

What The Web Is Saying
TheAppleBlog: Unless Apple somehow plans to introduce their own built-in Google Voice support in the near future, a scenario which I find highly unlikely, then this particular use of the feature duplication line is completely ridiculous.
Mike Masnick: this seems like an argument for why more open solutions will win out in the end.
Larry Dignan: The only way to elude these conundrums is to develop more browser based apps. The problem is that browser based apps require better connections. It’s quite a chicken and egg problem.
John Gruber: Don’t think about it in terms of Apple’s relationship with its carrier partners, but instead think about it in terms of Apple’s competition with Google. Google Voice is a mobile phone service provided by the maker of one of the biggest competitors to the iPhone OS. What if Google Voice were instead Microsoft Voice?

As a result, AT&T still gets to count minutes spent making and receiving calls via Google voice. So how is that bad news for AT&T? It’s not, and the only way it could be was if Google Voice worked over Wi-Fi. Apparently, even that hasn’t been much of an issue thus far because Apple has been approving WiFi-based VoIP apps.

If AT&T indeed was the villain here or Apple was against VoIP calls, then by now all voice applications would have been given the boot. My Skype, Truphone, Nimbuzz and Fring accounts are all working fine. You can download them from the iTunes store. So again, I think people are jumping to conclusions here.

Update: Our good friend, John Gruber says he has heard from a reliable source who tells him that it is indeed AT&T. I called AT&T PR and their response was: “We can’t say anything and Apple is the only one who can talk about the App store.” I emailed Apple PR and I am waiting to hear from them. Regardless, there is more that what meets the eye and I am not just yet ready to throw Ma Bell to the wolves (despite my personal distaste for their network.)

The other thing that really got me going about this was the idea of Google being the underdog. (I can hear it now: “Mommy! The big bad Apple is going to kill me!”) Well, if you believe Wired magazine, and there is no reason not to, there are certain officials in Washington who think Google is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and nothing but a big, bad monopoly (which I agree that it is.)

Google is using this so-called rejection as a way to score some karma points. Never mind the fact that it owns a competing platform called Android. When I asked Google about the whole fiasco, the company sent me this statement:

We work hard to bring Google applications to a number of mobile platforms, including the iPhone. Apple did not approve the Google Voice application we submitted six weeks ago to the Apple App Store. We will continue to work to bring our services to iPhone users, for example by taking advantage of advances in mobile browsers.

I, for one, would like Google to share with us the reasons Apple gave the company for rejecting its app. Otherwise, as I said… great way for them to earn Karma points.

  1. An awesome post OM. You seem to have explained to all of us, the reasons behind the outcry against all parties involved.

    Thanks,

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    1. Completely agree! this is one the post which shows a crystal clear picture.. rest all are taking sides!

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    2. With a headline claiming “the fact & fiction”, I expect facts. This article is nothing more than a nicely distilled summary of all the speculation I’ve already read.

      “If it were true, then Google Voice would be banned on BlackBerry devices that use AT&T as well. ”

      AT&T lacks technical and/or legal means to prohibit Windows Mobile and Blackberry users from installing third party applications. AT&T can’t sue Google for offering a Blackberry app. All they can do is ban things in the terms of service, and pray people will obey. Apple has declared themselves gatekeeper for iTunes Store content, and that makes Apple responsible for its content. Apple and AT&T have agreements in place. Through those agreements, AT&T gains a level of control over third party applications they don’t enjoy with the other handsets.

      “Update: … it is indeed AT&T.”

      Whoops. You mean that previous speculation might be wrong? Really? :)

      You wrote a great article, but your headline is very misleading. We still don’t really know the facts. Your “update” includes a rumor that sounds pretty plausible to me.

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      1. Mod up! Nice contribution of facts!! Thanks!

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  2. Good post Om. Rises above the noise.

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  3. Om, you have brought in a nice viewpoint here. However IMHO, the article does’nt go well with the title. The post have not tried to speculate the “real reason” why Google Voice was rejected. It does’nt even try to prove that the application was rejected because it “duplicates features that come with the iPhone.”

    Apple has rejected applications at will for a long time now. Its Apple which has run the App store like a monopoly. I agree with their logic that by filtering applications which are available for the iPhone on App Store they are reducing cases of malicious applications. But this is not the case here. Apple is not being ethical in forcefully “reducing competition” just because people have bought the iPhones and have not jailbroken yet. Google has been better in this aspect in providing an open platform & providing choices to the users.

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    1. It’s not run like a monopoly, it is a monopoly, a *natural* monopoly. Who else makes an iPhone? Or for that matter, and iPhone clone? No-one. Therefore Apple has a natural monopoly. Except they don’t. You don’t like the terms and conditions of the licensing agreement? Don’t buy iPhone. Don’t like the development terms? Develop for another platform. Apple have less than 5% of the global market share in mobile phones, based on physical shipments, so whichever way you look at it, legally Apple have done nothing wrong, how can they have a monopoly? It’s about time that this sort of post was brought to task. The term monopoly is being used (and abused) to cheaply. Please guys, learn what it means. The OECD has an excellent reference site for this sort of thing if you want to understand the basics of competition law.

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  4. i disagree with one point being made here – the assertion that GV does not impact ATT. it does. yes it uses their airtime. but GV makes that number the number your primary number. in theory you can port anytime or move to prepaid etc and not care about the service provider. this is not easily possible today with iphone, but GV will surely dilute the operator voice brand.

    whether this led att to pressure appl, i do not know. i do not believe att has any leverage over appl at this point. it was probably just APPL’s own doing. so agree with your assertion that goog may be just looking for PR at the expense of ATT.

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    1. @anon
      Number porting is a hypothetical situation with GV…no positive indication has been provided that number portability will be allowed. While I agree that it is an easy process, we have not heard anything assuring us that this will be possible. I am assuming that the reason portability is not a feature of GV is for the same reasons you state above…and Google is aware of that…especially since they do have their own handset branded os in the marketplace.

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      1. tarun

        i was talking about porting away from att’s underlying number. making GV your primary number and getting the cheapest plan around

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    2. Not only do the voice calls go over ATT’s PSTN but they are also considered non-network calls so calling contacts that are ATT subscribers which used to not count against the callers monthly minutes will. If anything this is better for ATT.

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      1. better for att, not so sure. no loyalty at all to the phone number or service. becomes a pure voice play for cheapest cents/min.

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    3. Number portability already exists. You can port your number to any other wireless or wireline carrier.

      And the impact of number portability (GV or not) is mitigated by early termination fees.

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  5. Looks like you missed the point completely.

    You can send free text messages from google voice and that must have really bugged Apple and ATT.

    Also, Apple did pull Google’s voice app out as it did for other google voice apps not made by google.

    So if people are ticked off about Apple’s high handedness its justified. I guess people havent realized yet that everything they thought they bought from Apple is really on rent from Apple.

    Really Pissed at AAPL/T
    -Naga

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    1. there are apps still available in the App store that let you send SMS messages via web sites. And Google Voice’s mobile page still allows you to do this too.

      Not exactly going to make AT&T much money when there are so many other ways to still do it.

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  6. How do you then explain the well publicized banning of Sling on iPhone yet it appears on BlackBerry. Same with Qik. This has been widely reported to be an AT&T issue.

    Simply put the iPhone user eats LOTS more data than the BB user.

    Let me know what I’m missing here.

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    1. I have the same question, and was prepared to use Sling as my example, too.

      “That is just flat-out wrong: If it were true, then Google Voice would be banned on BlackBerry devices that use AT&T as well.”

      The bottom line is that AT&T is *already* treating iPhone apps differently. I’d be able to watch my Slingbox over AT&T 3G if I’d just switch to a Blackberry. Sling’s iPhone app is neutered to WiFi-only at AT&T’s demand.

      Why would the Google Voice apps be any different?

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  7. [...] Om thinks that AT&T has little or nothing to do with Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice software. His theory makes sense — AT&T allows Google Voice on BlackBerry devices within the [...]

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  8. As Thin Lizzy says, “Tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak, Somewhere in this town.” Interesting debate. Thanks for clarifying why AT&T is not the evil empire (this time).

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  9. Om, what is the point you are trying to make here? Is Apple the villain?

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