Who Is to Blame for the Google Voice Apps Fiasco?

apps-final-2The fact that Google Voice apps have been banished by Apple from its App Store is a bad decision that has taken on gigantic proportions, and is drawing outrage and disgust from app developers. Many are thinking about giving up on the iPhone platform altogether. But who is to blame? AT&T, Apple or Google?

Apparently I’m in the minority, but I believe that AT&T has less to do with the decision to kick out the Google Voice-related apps (including the rejection of the official application by Google). Furthermore, I might be the only one to think that there is a corporate poker game going on between Apple and Google, with apps for Google services taking the place of poker chips. Yesterday, it was alleged that AT&T was to blame. I had a tough time buying into that line of argument, and so did John Gruber, who writes the highly regarded Daring Fireball blog. Then yesterday evening, Gruber, who in my books is one of the top bloggers on all things Mac, posted an update saying it was AT&T.

Well, so much for my speculation. A reliable little birdie has informed me that it was indeed AT&T that objected to Google Voice apps for the iPhone. It’s that simple.

In other words, Apple kicked out Google Voice Apps at the behest of Ma Bell. Later on last night, when I saw the TechCrunch team, we argued about who was to blame. They have pointed the finger at the Dallas iPhone Boys.

Jason Kincaid and Mike Arrington from TechCrunch debated with me — using my own argument, no less — that Google Voice turns Google into an MVNO and that is what makes AT&T scared of it. But if that is indeed the case, then Google Voice should have been booted off BlackBerry devices running on AT&T. And that is not so.

I believe that AT&T has become a piñata in the high-stakes war being waged by Apple and Google. Why do we believe that these two companies are not in competition with each other? Is it because Eric Schmidt sits on the Google Apple board? This battle between Google and Apple is going to get very ugly — as it should. Both companies have pinned their futures on smartphones. The sad part is that as of now, Google needs access to the iPhone more badly than the iPhone needs Google or Google Voice.

My arguments aside, the blame game has spilled over from the blogs into the mainstream press.

“What it comes down to is AT&T’s turf,” said Gene Munster, a senior research analyst at the investment firm Piper Jaffray. “It shows that contractually, Apple has agreed to keep apps that would hurt AT&T’s business out of the App Store, regardless of who developed them.”

Thanks, Munster, for repeating what blogs were saying yesterday, but without a shred of additional information.

Anyway, today I decided to check with the folks at AT&T. Their response was pretty standard, though they changed their stance a little and said that all apps-related decisions are taken by Apple. Now we all know that’s not always true. After all, in the case of the SlingPlayer, Ma Bell changed its user terms of service to restrict the use of mobile video apps, and when the howls of protest reached a crescendo, AT&T backtracked, and Sling’s app came to the App Store but worked exclusively over the Wi-Fi network.

That past behavior is what makes it easy for folks to believe that AT&T is to blame for the current fiasco. As a result, AT&T’s current statement is only going to put the company deeper in the hole. I think they — and by that I mean AT&T’s senior management — have to make a stronger statement than that. They are not doing themselves any favors by being coy and cryptic. I know it’s hard for many of us (starting with me) in Silicon Valley to think logically about Ma Bell, given its history, but unlike others, I am happy to give AT&T the benefit of doubt. Are you?

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