Apple, AT&T, and Google Voice

The Recap

Early last week Apple began removing Google Voice applications from the App Store claiming that they “duplicate features that come with the iPhone.” Then we learn that Apple blocked Google’s official Google Voice application from the App Store.

The next day John Gruber wrote a very interesting piece regarding the issue which was later updated the article confirming speculation, AT&T was the one to blame.

Later in the week the Federal Communications Commission launched an inquiry into why Apple rejected the application. The letter sent to Apple (PDF) asked how AT&T was consulted in the decision, if at all, and “what are the standards for considering and approving iPhone applications?”

AT&T has denied blocking the Google Voice applications saying “AT&T does not manage or approve applications for the App Store.” This stance is contradictory to reports in May that AT&T limited the SlingPlayer app to Wi-Fi only.

The most recent (and most interesting) part of this story is that Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt has left Apple’s board. From Apple’s press release:

“Eric has been an excellent Board member for Apple, investing his valuable time, talent, passion and wisdom to help make Apple successful,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “Unfortunately, as Google enters more of Apple’s core businesses, with Android and now Chrome OS, Eric’s effectiveness as an Apple Board member will be significantly diminished, since he will have to recuse himself from even larger portions of our meetings due to potential conflicts of interest. Therefore, we have mutually decided that now is the right time for Eric to resign his position on Apple’s Board.”

The Opinion

Apple is upset with Google. That is why Google Voice was rejected. Google has consistently moved into similar markets as Apple, this is why Schmidt had to leave the board. Remember Google’s Latitude application? That was originally going to be a native application but Apple blocked it, leaving Safari as the only option for Latitude users.

What’s funny about this is that Google also has a web based app for Google Voice that works on the iPhone, it isn’t as nice as the native app would be but it is at least an option.

The argument used for AT&T wanting the app blocked is that it replaces all of the phone functionality from the device. But, it doesn’t. The way Google Voice routes calls is that you punch in a number and Google Voice calls both you and the person you want to call, this means that you are still using your AT&T minutes when you use Google Voice. Long distance is often free on AT&T accounts and although international rates are cheaper when using Google Voice, there are already a bunch of services set up for calling international numbers at lower rates.

Many people complaining about the rejection of Google Voice are more upset about Apple’s policies than they are about being able to use Google Voice more seamlessly. It is silly that Apple would reject this application and I would love for someone to get the the bottom of this issue to find out exactly why it was rejected and who to blame. But, I don’t think that it is the governments job to do so. Instead it should be done by journalists. The same journalists that have been wasting their time complaining about the rejection should have been spending their time finding answers.

The idea that the government is going to get involved in a companies decisions regarding what applications are allowed on their phone, when the developers have agreed to the terms of service is just too overly involved and would undermine the contract between Apple and the developers. But, if a developer thinks that the removal of their application didn’t adhere to Apple’s own terms of service than they could take legal action.

This rejection is just one of many and I’m sure we will eventually know what all happened, I just hope it doesn’t take too long.

Update 8/7/09: David Pogue reporting for the New York Times writes:

Already, Google says it is readying a replacement for the Google Voice app that will offer exactly the same features as the rejected app—except that it will take the form of a specialized, iPhone-shaped Web page. For all intents and purposes, it will behave exactly the same as the app would have; you can even install it as an icon on your Home screen.

Update 8/10/09: Adding more fuel to the Apple-Google fire, a former Google employee “with knowledge of such matters” has told TechCrunch that Apple and Google “had an agreement not to hire away each other’s workers.”

Update 8/21/09: It seems these type of secret non-employee-poaching agreements aren’t that uncommon with Apple. Bloomberg is reporting that Apple offered a similar agreement to Palm but Ed Colligan rejected the proposal.

Update 9/10/09: PreCentral reports that Palm has rejected their first application from their App Catalog and The Official Palm Blog announces that they have approved a Google Voice application.