Why is Apple blocking Google Voice apps?

by Justin Horn on Jul 28th, 2009 @ 4:08 pm

The hot news today is a high profile app store rejection…this time for the official Google Voice app. In addition to rejecting Google they have now removed the third party apps GV Mobile (now available for jailbreakers through Cydia) and VoiceCentral that have been listed in the app store for months. It was just about two weeks ago when I wrote about the release of official Google Voice apps for Android and Blackberry.  I wondered why they would release one for Blackberry before the iPhone, but turns out the app was done and submitted about 6 weeks ago!

TechCrunch spoke with a Google representative that said:

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.

So now the question on everyone’s mind is why?

TechCrunch is going with good old faithful:

Of course, it’s not hard to guess who’s behind the restriction: our old friend AT&T. Google Voice scares the carriers. It allows users to send free SMS messages and get cheap long-distance over Google Voice’s lines. It also makes it trivial to switch to a new phone service, because everyone calls the Google Voice number anyway.

I don’t find this as a strong argument, although with at&t you never know. You can use Skype to send SMS messages and make long distance calls. Even worse for at&t, with Skype you can make long distance or local calls without using any voice minutes when connected to WI-FI. With Google Voice any phone calls you make will come out of your regular minutes…yes you can still bypass long distance calls, but who doesn’t have a national plan nowadays? Who regularly makes international calls from  their cell phone?

Switching to a new phone service because everyone already knows your Google Voice number? I don’t know how it is outside the US, but here the telcom companies can no longer hold your number hostage.

I do see a couple places where this could be scary, carriers that allow customers to pick a limited number of mobile and landline numbers for unlimited minutes and inbound SMS. I assume it wouldn’t be too hard for carriers to block Google voice numbers from the “friends and family” type programs, but unlike Skype’s outbound only SMS, a Google Voice app with push could send and receive SMS totally bypassing the carrier.

John Gruber of Daring Fireball isn’t so sure it’s at&t pulling the strings and instead adds two other possible reasons:

Google Voice doesn’t just interfere with the carrier’s business model, it interfere’s with Apple’s iPhone business model. Not just AT&T but all iPhone carrier partners pay Apple a hefty subsidy for every iPhone sold, and that subsidy is based on assumptions about how much the average iPhone customer is going to pay in monthly service charges for voice, data, and SMS.

I can see Apple not wanting to upset at&t by allowing an app that at&t thinks could damage their bottom line, but again why would Apple and at&t be okay with Skype? Plus, most of the features that would be provided in the GV app can be achieved by using the GV web app in in safari. By limiting users to Safari the only plus for carriers is preventing GV inbound push SMS, but users could still place calls from their GV number and send outbound SMS. Preventing inbound SMS over GV doesn’t seem like a worthwhile reason, for Apple or at&t, to annoy users and tempt them to pick up an Android or Blackberry instead of an iPhone.

Gruber’s second idea:

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? And what if Windows Mobile were as modern and competitive as Android? Would you be as surprised then that Apple is discouraging iPhone owners from using the service?

Google is all over iPhone with a Google App, built in map app, default Safari search, etc. Why would Apple care if you use Google Voice as long as you are buying an iPhone, buying apps from the App store, and buying music on iTunes? Unless Apple is going to get in on the telcom provider industry, I don’t see the issue. I see a bigger risk to Apple’s bottom line, angering their customers and pushing them to buy a GV supported Blackberry or Android instead.

While writing this post Gruber has updated his original post with the following:

Update 1:40 pm: 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.

Gruber does have some very reliable birdies indeed, but still doesn’t make sense to me. Is it just the GV inbound SMS that at&t is afraid of or will Skype soon disappear from the app store as well? I think the most glaringly obvious reason against the at&t argument is at&t also sells Blackberries, which support the official GV app. Why should Apple have to possibly lose customers to Blackberry and Android just because they have more control over what apps are installed on the iPhone? If Apple intends on keeping this out of the app store permanently I think there is more to the story than at&t.

So why do I think Apple is blocking it? I have no idea! It makes absolutely no sense for them to block it, especially with Skype still in the app store. I have a feeling we will see the official Google Voice app in the app store in the not too distant future. The third party apps that were removed should also be relisted as well, but with an official free app it won’t really matter either way.

Follow me on Twitter @justin_horn



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Apple vs ?, at&t, iPhone, iPhone apps, Speculation

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  1. [...] heard by now the FCC is looking into the whole Google Voice app rejection fiasco that we talked about the other day then followed up a day later with AT&T’s denial of [...]

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