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Summary:

Apple pulled the Google Voice iPhone application from the iPhone, according to letters the company filed in response to an inquiry by the Federal Communications Commission. Apple says that it has not outright rejected the Google Voice app, but is merely studying it. Problem is, it mucks around […]

apps-final-21Apple pulled the Google Voice iPhone application from the iPhone, according to letters the company filed in response to an inquiry by the Federal Communications Commission. Apple says that it has not outright rejected the Google Voice app, but is merely studying it. Problem is, it mucks around with the user experience and interface Apple is trying to create with the iPhone. From Apple’s letter to the FCC:

Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it. The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail.

Don’t mess with Steve Job’s vision! For those who need a refresher on this little tech tempest, at the end of July the Google Voice application for the iPhone, which allows Google’s voice and messaging service to get access to certain features on the handset, was pulled from the iPhone’s App Store. Much of the Google Voice functionality  is still accessible from the browser, however. Many blamed AT&T, citing the carrier’s reluctance to allow for VoIP minutes on its cellular network. AT&T does in fact prohibit this in apps, as it admits in its own filing today. However, the carrier has maintained all along that it played no role in the removal of the Google Voice app from the App Store, and now it’s been proven right. Om actually believed AT&T, and argued that the removal was because of a brewing rivalry between Google and Apple. As for the rest of the letters, we’ve included links to PDF copies below for those of you who want to learn more.

  1. Stacey, talk about karma. So many of the big telcos sued Vonage claiming prior VoIP and other art and even today do not have competitive VoIP offerings of their own and rightly or wrongly get blamed for mucking with VoIP of others.

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    1. Agreed but they never wanted to mess around with their bread-and-butter business of selling voice minutes. It will always be the case since bells are always facing the innovator’s dilemma.

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  2. Hat tip to Om. Side note: there is no VOIP component to Google voice at the moment.

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    1. TimB

      Actually I noted that in the original post about Google Voice. It is nice to see that that some form of varnished/boiled truth come out. I think a lot of people are assuming Google’s innocence – which I am not. They are an incumbent as well and they have nefarious designs on everything as well. It is the clash of the elephants.

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    2. Tim, how can you categorically say there is no VoIP component, whereas Apple tells the FCC

      “Apple does not know if there is a VoIP element in the way the Google Voice application routes calls and messages, and whether VoIP technology is used over the 3G network by the application.”

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  3. One thing that’s interesting to note is that GV never made it to the point where AT&T would be involved. Apple said it themselves:

    “… it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail.”

    Wow. GV would replace core iPhone functionality, so (for now) Apple stopped right there. Rightfully so, in my opinion. But because they never got any further with it, any possible objections or contractual obligations involving AT&T have not even been discovered. Apple said that, too:

    “Apple does not know if there is a VoIP element in the way the Google Voice application routes calls and messages, and whether VoIP technology is used over the 3G network by the application.”

    The jury is out as to whether this app would be “OK” with AT&T even if Apple hadn’t slammed on the breaks when they found Google was circumventing a chunk of key functionality.

    Meanwhile, Google’s response is instructive. First, Apple came right out and said what we all know, that Google can make GV available to the iPhone via a web app. Yet so far Google has not done that. Why? If all they want are more GV users from the iPhone base, it’s a no brainer, right? Well, here’s what Google said to that:

    “…the App Store version of the Google Voice application offers significant advantages over [the web app] accessing Google Voice… only the App Store version of Google Voice can directly access the iPhone address book and dial directly from the application, thus providing a more seamless experience to the iPhone user.”

    Well, yes, because it circumvents a chunk of Apple’s iPhone OS code with Google’s own! Sorry, but every time I read Google’s reply my head translates it into this:

    ** We wrote our own mobile OS but it’s getting nowhere. It’s not particularly impressive, and neither is the hardware. Yes, we can use GV for a seamless experience on those devices, but we’d have a small user base. Instead, we’d rather take Apple’s hugely successful iPhone OS and circumvent it, while we act all innocent like and pretend we don’t understand why Apple would object. We’ve got nothing to lose. Heck, so far it’s working for Palm hacking into iTunes for similar reasons. **

    What’s funny is that Apple must suspect the above paragraph is what’s really going on. No wonder they bounced Schmidt off the board. They’re not buying it, and said as much when they state Google is free to “provide its “Google-branded” user experience on other phones, including Android-based phones, and let consumers make their choices.” Google knows the consumer choice is already made, and they’re losing, hence the tack they’re taking now.

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    1. Wow, Tom. A lot of Google dislike in that post. How exactly is Apple exploited by running GV on the iPhone? By accessing the address book? You mean the same address book which will sync to Google contacts/exchange,etc? Do you mean Google’s inferior software writing polluting the pristine environment? What about Google maps? Whatever you think of Google – GV will be successful with or without iPhone, and Android mobile will be succesful as well. It’s possible to like both.

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      1. You cheapen the argument when you simply chalk it up to Google dislike.

        I have a hugely successful OS I’m responsible for. Somebody steps in with an app that circumvents critical chunks of it (which they can do on their own OS but nobody’s buying that). Yeah, I’m fine with that. I’ll just rubber-stamp that approval.

        Chalk it up to Google dislike if you want, but then I suppose this is where I’m supposed to call you a Google fanboi and then we get nowhere.

        You won’t even CONSIDER that Google wants a bit more than just additional GV users? It’s not possible in your eyes that maybe they LIKE the idea of placing GV as a pseudo-part of the OS? If not, why not just do the web app and be done with it?

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    2. This is one of the most inane responses I’ve heard. Aside from your misguided notion that Google is “losing,” you’re making it sound as if by allowing GV into the app store every iPhone/Touch on the planet would be automatically hijacked by GV.

      I download an app because I want it. And if it turns out that I really don’t like it, well, out it goes. Bottomline, the decision should be mine to make, not Apple. Hence the whole jailbreaking sub-culture and developer dissatisfaction with the approval process.

      For every device or platform, there’s a whole industry devoted to modding, tweaking, and adding/removing functionality: car modders, OS theming, etc. Apple is playing a losing game by thinking they can maintain control over a device I already bought and own.

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  4. How do you reconcile the headline

    “Apple Pulled Google Voice App, Not AT&T”

    with the fact the contract between the companies requires Apple to seek AT&T’s permission for VoIP apps?

    From your post:

    “AT&T does in fact prohibit this in apps, as it admits in its own filing today”

    Apple did not need to check with AT&T to *deny* GV, because it was denied by the contract between the two companies.

    Apple would only need to check with AT&T to *approve* GV.

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    1. Daniel, if you read the ATT letter Apple is constrained to not take “affirmative steps to enable an iPhone to use AT&T’s wireless service to make VoIP calls.”, However, “if a third party enables an iPhone to make VoIP calls using AT&T’s wireless service, Apple would have no obligation to take action against that third party.”

      Clear as mud – right?

      Reading all 3 letters I blogged this morning that the FCC may get lost in the trees and not focus on the forest – its broader charter of mobile consumer experience and economics.

      http://dealarchitect.typepad.com/deal_architect/2009/08/appleattgoogle-the-poker-game.html

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  5. Apple also claimed this:
    “In addition, the iPhone user’s entire Contacts database is transferred to Google’s servers, and we have yet to obtain any assurances from Google that this data will only be used in appropriate ways.”

    REALLY? NO! This is a complete fabrication. Many apps use the same iPhone contacts the same basic way so this is a crock. None of the Google Voice apps allow for syncing contact information with Google’s servers, so this is a complete fabrication on Apple’s part. More interesting is that Apple allows syncing of contacts themselves to Google’s servers with iTunes and in the Address book on the Mac as a standard feature!

    There are so much misleading information and some outright lies, I didn’t know where to start when I wrote about this!

    Apple needs to re-learn that users are not dumb.

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    1. Do you believe that if I use the GV app on my iPhone, and then login to GV via the web app, those contacts won’t be there? I think they will be because GV will transfer them to Google’s servers. Apple’s not saying it has a problem with this, per sé, it’s saying it has received no assurances from Google that the data will only be used appropriately. These are not the same thing.

      There are many who believe their contacts are their own; they exist on their desktop PC and their iPhone, that’s it. When a user downloads a sync program it’s OBVIOUS they’re going to allow the data “outside”, so they’ve made that conscience choice. But GV says it uses your iPhone contacts, and it’s not unreasonable to think a user may feel it does so without syncing them elsewhere. I mean, lost in all the features of the GV app people may not realize their contacts are now in Google’s possession.

      Many apps use the iPhone’s contacts without syncing them someplace else. Apple’s concern could be that GV comes off as being one of them. I don’t know this for sure, I’m speculating. But then so are you.

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  6. Here’s a comic take on APPLE, AT&T and FCC issue!!! http://tinyurl.com/comicappleattandfcc

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  7. [...] If you’re interested in more specifics, here are the official letters, courtesy of GigaOm. [...]

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  8. [...] If you’re interested in more specifics, here are the official letters, courtesy of GigaOm. [...]

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  9. Apple rejects the Google Voice app because it does an end-around the core iPhone functionality. What about the other (“third party”) GV apps that were previously approved and distributed via the App store and then suddenly removed? It seems odd that suddenly Apple would realize that those other apps did the same thing with regards to circumventing the core functions at the same time it rejected the Google version of the app. I just get the feeling that something else is going on here. It doesn’t add up.

    It should be up to the user to decide if they want to install and use an application that replaces the core functions of the device. That said, ultimately it’s Apple’s device and Apple’s app store, so if you want to play in their sandbox, you’ll need to follow their rules. I have an iPhone and for the most part really enjoy the experience. I just wish some of Apple’s activities would be more consistent and transparent. It’s hard for me to understand how Apple can differentiate between a Mac which users can install and access whatever apps and content they want, vs. the iPhone. An iPhone is just a mini PC that can make phone calls.

    It’ll be interesting to see what, if any response the FCC has.

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  10. Its amazing that apple states that they rejected the Google Voice App because it replaced existing functionality. Well Apple, why did you approve RingCentral’s App? It has its own dialer and method for retriveing VM as well. Why is that app okay and not Google’s?

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