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The Fact & Fiction of Google Voice's iPhone Rejection

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[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.

122 Responses to “The Fact & Fiction of Google Voice's iPhone Rejection”

  1. Google a wolf in sheep’s clothing? I’m not so sure. Didn’t they lobby to get the 700 MHz spectrum up for auction on an open network, allowing subscribers to use any phone they like? That’s a big move considering that all carriers give you a subsidized for and gouge you for the next 2-3 years (the latter now being the standard in Canada)…

    Google’s Summer of Code has impacted the OSS community, and has brought a much needed surge to things like GNOME, KDE, and other GPL software. Giving sizeable “purses” to developers in almost 100 countries.

    Hey no one is arguing they are big… Gabby Hayes big. But they have always traditionally been founded on the maxim of “Do no evil.” To call them the biggest snake in the grass is bold.

    And BB is not exclusive to AT&T, the iPhone is. That really puts a kink in the whole “My BB works just fine” theory. The latter phone is also AT&Ts most profitable and owns a sizeable chunk of the smartphone market.

    And lastly, as others have said, GV gives the user one number that can be ported. That’s actually quite big. It may seem trivial but its not. Again as others have said above, it gives users the ability to shop for minutes. Get an unlocked phone, load up GV, and you can shop around for the cheapest packages… that’s not what the big bad carriers want. They want restrictions. A nightmare if you change service. The harder the better. Take a class in psychology 101… you’ll know that even the smallest hurdle can dissuade the masses…

    If AT&T says they have nothing to do with this, then they are flat out lying. Talking to their PR is futile, much like resisting their iron grip…

  2. J Bryan

    Ok, I might be off on this one, but just added my bold as a data device and an iphone as a primary.
    Interestingly enough, can’t find the google voice app in the blackberry app store, and for some reason when I point the browser to, suddenly I get the “unable to connect to the mobile data service” error, however every other weblink including works fine.

    I have a feeling this is will become a much bigger egg on the face of ATT

  3. Pretty cool post. I just came by your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your posts.

    Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon!

  4. This is what I think about the companies involved in this mess.
    Not to sound like a fanboy, but I for one think, Google is great. I usually despise monopolies, but I see Google as the natural leader of internet services today anything else is conspiracy buff paranoia . They clearly earned their title (unlike many who held market shares [remember AOL?]) and they continue to innovate with new products like no other company before them. They make products, that are free, do not install spyware or adware. Clicking at google adverts is the least I can do as a grateful user and when I see their profits rising I feel happy, for they have clearly earned it. They might harvest all my private information, but why would such a large company destroy their earned trust?
    Everybody knows this, once the trust is gone all you have is nothing and I’m pretty sure Google understands this.

    Many of you have forgotten the dark days of Hotmail, Msn, yahoo mail, yahoo, askJeeves, lycos, etc.
    The world where on demand maps, had to be paid for or were static images connected by primitive hyperlinks. Now we have Google Earth and Live Maps (which came after). Of course many of you do not remember when search queries weren’t powered by TRIE trees which came up with really helpful suggestions. And I’m just brushing the service, Microsoft lags behind and at large copies them with out any law suits (Online Office vs Google Docs for example as well as the Map utility). I agree with Microsofts competition, but innovation is clearly Googles strong point.

    Regarding AT&T: My American Cousin worked in the Mobile phone industry regarding contracts and what not. He explained it all to me and asked me for my opinion. I told him that it sounds like a con. He replied with 2 words: ” It is”. The mobile networks in America are one big CON, over here I spend like 5-10 Dollars a month on average with Topup cards (on exam months.. I don’t even buy top ups & leave my phone without credit [ppl can still call me]), on an unlocked HTC S710 which cost me roughly 100 Dollars from Ebay. You do the Math. A staggering 70% of the US population does not need contract based mobile telephony, because its simply not worth their while when Top ups are available. I am not in anyway Bound to my mobile provider, when I want I switch with no fuss, They even LET you keep your old number! The only people who take contracts here are those who actually find it worth it , such as cellphone junkies or businessmen.

    Regarding Apple: Apple is well known for being restrictive, bossy and money loving, hence their market share being 3/4 less than it should be. Apple spent years flying their pirate flags, swearing to beat IBM, till they finally gave up and Joined them in their devious ways. Every time I am tempted to buy a Macbook, I look on the internet to see what programs will work and will not work, see how I can do something with it and how much it would cost me long term. And the yearly expenses don’t come close to a PC. When the iPhone was first debuted, I was doing cart-rolls and Couldn’t wait to try out the apparent “Jesus phone”. The cost was exorbitant (unlocked), but the real deal breaker? The fact that I couldn’t install programs that they didn’t approve of. I.E Apple always tries to make you their bitch and the most insulting thing of it is, you are their bitch every step of the way from purchasing an over priced product to getting all these ridiculous restrictions and closed (restricted) environment.

    Give me a Windows Capable Mobile running Google Android OS any day on a Credit Top up system, that lets me install whatever the fuck I want it to. Companies like Apple operate in the same way DPRK does with their socialistic “I know better so shut up and do what you’re told”.

  5. staiano

    So, “John Gruber says he has heard from a reliable source who tells him that it is indeed at&t” and all you do is slap apple and google around?

    Come on OM.

  6. elguillermo

    If At&T is pressuring Apple to remove GV from the appstore, then it should be removed only from the US market.
    People from outside the US should still be able to get the app. If it is not the case, then it means it is a decision from Apple

  7. This is a good article, but you overlook one major point as to why AT&T would call the shots: SMS Text Messaging. Unlimited costs $20 while the lowest plan is $5. I posted my own writeup yesterday focusing on nothing else but the SMS side of things.

    You can get away with the lowest plan (like i do) and not forward SMS messages to your phone tho’ you won’t get live notification. But for those on a budget like myself, it works.

  8. After all the excitement about this story, the fact remains that the Google Voice application from Google has not been put up in the iTunes apps store and the two previously approved apps (which thankfully I downloaded before the ban went live) have also been removed.

    I would very much like to hear a spokesperson from Apple explain to their customers why this has happened!


  9. Salty917

    “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork…G Orwell’s…1984

    Together the big and biggest slowly will control everything from one giant CPU. You may think your having breakfast but in reality your working in the rice paddy. Don’t even try to fight it “resistance is futile”

    Have a nice day!

  10. wait… what does GV mobile need the internet for if it’s using phone minutes for calls?

    Please note that GV Mobile relies heavily on the use of an internet connection (3G, EDGE, Wifi, etc).
    If your internet connection is shady a best, this app may not function properly. A future update will include ‘Offline Mode’ which will allow for dialing using your Google Voice number without the need of an internet connection.
    By using GV Mobile, you understand that I am not liable for data charges you may incur.
    Sorry… forgot to say great post – can’t wait to read your next one!

  11. wait… what does GV mobile need the internet for if it’s using phone minutes for calls?

    Please note that GV Mobile relies heavily on the use of an internet connection (3G, EDGE, Wifi, etc).
    If your internet connection is shady a best, this app may not function properly. A future update will include ‘Offline Mode’ which will allow for dialing using your Google Voice number without the need of an internet connection.
    By using GV Mobile, you understand that I am not liable for data charges you may incur.

    • theotherme

      It needs an internet connection because it logs on to your google voice account over the intertubes, It might need to use it heavily because it will need to download any of your voicemails that you want to listen to and for all anyone knows, your mother could follow up on her threat to call and read war & peace to you if you don’t answer the phone calls.

  12. Om, what everybody seems to be missing is that with a quick way to dial from the address book, all of the long-distance charges that AT&(F)T would get disappear. This is pure lost long distance revenue. Although I agree with your assertion that if that were the case, they would have probably removed it from Blackberry but maybe they don’ thave the same leverage? Besides, Apple is more controlling and can afford to lose apps, Blackberry’s mangy little store can’t afford to leave a shelf empty.

    I posted my rant here:

    Regardless of where the blame lies, I’d sure as hell like an explanation.

  13. MIchael Brian Bentley

    ATT’s contract with Apple is likely different from its contracts with other manufacturers, so ATT is perhaps more motivated to complain about apps on iphones that duplicate services. Like IM clients. Go figure.

  14. Personally, this is one of those perception is reality deals. AT&T and Apple have a “special” relationship and App Store is THE app store so that mitigates the how/why between Apple and AT&T differently than the RIM/AT&T relationship.

    At the same time, Apple and Google have a “special” relationship between Schmidt’s board seat, YouTube client and Maps app on iPhone/iPod touch, so lots of grays here.

    The net out, though, is that given the fact that Google and Apple are the consummate chess masters, whose industry power (and dedicated ecosystems), combined with opposing views on computing (open, loosely coupled vs. proprietary integration; iPhone v. Android; free/ad supported v. premium prices) seems to make it inevitable that in the coming months these friends evolve into “frienemies,” something I blogged about in:

    The Chess Masters: Apple versus Google

    Check it out, if interested.