The Fact & Fiction of Google Voice's iPhone Rejection

122 thoughts on “The Fact & Fiction of Google Voice's iPhone Rejection”

    1. With a headline claiming “the fact & fiction”, I expect facts. This article is nothing more than a nicely distilled summary of all the speculation I’ve already read.

      “If it were true, then Google Voice would be banned on BlackBerry devices that use AT&T as well. ”

      AT&T lacks technical and/or legal means to prohibit Windows Mobile and Blackberry users from installing third party applications. AT&T can’t sue Google for offering a Blackberry app. All they can do is ban things in the terms of service, and pray people will obey. Apple has declared themselves gatekeeper for iTunes Store content, and that makes Apple responsible for its content. Apple and AT&T have agreements in place. Through those agreements, AT&T gains a level of control over third party applications they don’t enjoy with the other handsets.

      “Update: … it is indeed AT&T.”

      Whoops. You mean that previous speculation might be wrong? Really? 🙂

      You wrote a great article, but your headline is very misleading. We still don’t really know the facts. Your “update” includes a rumor that sounds pretty plausible to me.

  1. Om, you have brought in a nice viewpoint here. However IMHO, the article does’nt go well with the title. The post have not tried to speculate the “real reason” why Google Voice was rejected. It does’nt even try to prove that the application was rejected because it “duplicates features that come with the iPhone.”

    Apple has rejected applications at will for a long time now. Its Apple which has run the App store like a monopoly. I agree with their logic that by filtering applications which are available for the iPhone on App Store they are reducing cases of malicious applications. But this is not the case here. Apple is not being ethical in forcefully “reducing competition” just because people have bought the iPhones and have not jailbroken yet. Google has been better in this aspect in providing an open platform & providing choices to the users.

    1. It’s not run like a monopoly, it is a monopoly, a *natural* monopoly. Who else makes an iPhone? Or for that matter, and iPhone clone? No-one. Therefore Apple has a natural monopoly. Except they don’t. You don’t like the terms and conditions of the licensing agreement? Don’t buy iPhone. Don’t like the development terms? Develop for another platform. Apple have less than 5% of the global market share in mobile phones, based on physical shipments, so whichever way you look at it, legally Apple have done nothing wrong, how can they have a monopoly? It’s about time that this sort of post was brought to task. The term monopoly is being used (and abused) to cheaply. Please guys, learn what it means. The OECD has an excellent reference site for this sort of thing if you want to understand the basics of competition law.

  2. i disagree with one point being made here – the assertion that GV does not impact ATT. it does. yes it uses their airtime. but GV makes that number the number your primary number. in theory you can port anytime or move to prepaid etc and not care about the service provider. this is not easily possible today with iphone, but GV will surely dilute the operator voice brand.

    whether this led att to pressure appl, i do not know. i do not believe att has any leverage over appl at this point. it was probably just APPL’s own doing. so agree with your assertion that goog may be just looking for PR at the expense of ATT.

    1. @anon
      Number porting is a hypothetical situation with GV…no positive indication has been provided that number portability will be allowed. While I agree that it is an easy process, we have not heard anything assuring us that this will be possible. I am assuming that the reason portability is not a feature of GV is for the same reasons you state above…and Google is aware of that…especially since they do have their own handset branded os in the marketplace.

    2. Not only do the voice calls go over ATT’s PSTN but they are also considered non-network calls so calling contacts that are ATT subscribers which used to not count against the callers monthly minutes will. If anything this is better for ATT.

  3. Looks like you missed the point completely.

    You can send free text messages from google voice and that must have really bugged Apple and ATT.

    Also, Apple did pull Google’s voice app out as it did for other google voice apps not made by google.

    So if people are ticked off about Apple’s high handedness its justified. I guess people havent realized yet that everything they thought they bought from Apple is really on rent from Apple.

    Really Pissed at AAPL/T
    -Naga

    1. there are apps still available in the App store that let you send SMS messages via web sites. And Google Voice’s mobile page still allows you to do this too.

      Not exactly going to make AT&T much money when there are so many other ways to still do it.

  4. How do you then explain the well publicized banning of Sling on iPhone yet it appears on BlackBerry. Same with Qik. This has been widely reported to be an AT&T issue.

    Simply put the iPhone user eats LOTS more data than the BB user.

    Let me know what I’m missing here.

    1. I have the same question, and was prepared to use Sling as my example, too.

      “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.”

      The bottom line is that AT&T is *already* treating iPhone apps differently. I’d be able to watch my Slingbox over AT&T 3G if I’d just switch to a Blackberry. Sling’s iPhone app is neutered to WiFi-only at AT&T’s demand.

      Why would the Google Voice apps be any different?

  5. As Thin Lizzy says, “Tonight there’s gonna be a jailbreak, Somewhere in this town.” Interesting debate. Thanks for clarifying why AT&T is not the evil empire (this time).

  6. I agree with previous comment about many services blocked on the iPhone still work on Crackberry and other devices. The iPhone has hit AT&T in numbers it can’t handle, and AT&T must be in a terrible love/hate relationship over it with both Apple and the consumers who have the iPhone. Crackberry users are more likely business users and therefore less likely to Jack around with apps like slingplayer or google voice. Consumer type iPhone users are far more likely to suck up data with these apps, and far more likely to drop expensive SMS services and replace them with free Google SMS. Business users won’t hassle with it, or will be prevented by corporate IT policy.

    Makes mucho sense for AT&T to treat iPhone differently than other phones.

  7. “If it were true, then Google Voice would be banned on BlackBerry devices that use AT&T as well.”

    Not true. The reason? AT&T has no control over what applications are installed/used on Blackberry devices.

    Since the App Store is the sole (official & legal) source for iPhone apps, AT&T has a say in what gets approved. The portability of a Google Voice number + unlimited free text messages is too big for AT&T to ignore.

    1. I don’t understand the portability angle here. Sure, I could effectively port my GV number to any number of phones but, assuming I’m under contract with AT&T, my voice plan is a fixed revenue stream for them, and if I’m out-of-contract, I can just as easily port my AT&T-issued phone number as well.

      1. Tim G, What GOOG wants is people to buy phones without contract, shop for the cheapest plan with adequate number of minutes. They sit in the middle and provide services. They would love to be able to port your ATT number to them, if possible. Will jumpstart the whole thing. But currently you cannot port from mobile -> fixed (which IMHO is the way FCC will look at them). Porting other way is possible. Over the long term even if porting is not possible, your GV number becomes your primary number and then the underlying number is irrelevant.

        GOOG-411 and such services can be monitized at a minimum. Just making GOOG-411 easier to use and in front of the eyes all the time will hurt the 411 revenue stream of the incumbents.

  8. “And are people forgetting that you need AT&T’s voice network to send and receive Google Voice calls?”

    Not necessarily. The iPhone app could be used to control which line receives the call being placed. You could very easily use it to have GV dial your work or home number, bypassing AT&T altogether.

  9. i’d have to disagree with this analysis.

    the existence of other apps that use voip or offer free text messages does not prove that apple or att didn’t reject the google app for anything other than purely competitive or strategic reasons. of course they’ll approve some rinky dink low quality apps from unknown start-ups so they can *say* they approve voip and sms apps. we can debate *who* didn’t want the app approved, but in this case you can bet both at&t and apple didn’t want a google app approved as they both have multiple things to lose – minutes, text messages, control of the user, control of the users phone number.

    this is typical behavior of the operators and now of apple, who have become another gatekeeper, just like microsoft and the wireless carriers were before them.

    apple is open to the extent it suits them. no more, no less.

    1. I´m with you. It´s a great article, after everyone was hollering that ATT were the bad guys. Apple is a big boy, if they wanted to keep the Google Voice Apps, they would have. But they don´t. I still think that it was a PR disaster, but Apple are flexing their muscles, such as they are, versus Google. And since Apple users are ridiculously loyal to their brand, they´ll proabably get away with it. I have an ipod, it´s ok, and yes, it´s prrretty, but jeez it´s just an mp3 player. Not a way of life. Burn yoour Iphone today! Now that would be cool.

  10. OK, Om you’ve defended At&T, and slammed Google. Your version of “Leave AT&T alone!” And of course Apple is faultless.

    how about YOUR take why AppleT&T pulled the apps and told google they can only offer Google Voice as a web app?

  11. With all the sales, new subscribers and higher rate plans that Apple has brought in, APPLE, not AT&T, has the leverage. AT&T can’t tell Apple to do anything. So while AT&T can be guilty of many things I think this case is clearly being driven by Apple. They are working on a similar app and don’t want to give Google a head start with single number identity. Watch for it this fall.
    @robblewis

  12. To me, this is primarily about the cash cow that is SMS. A massive flood of iPhone users suddenly bypassing AT&T’s SMS charges? Imagine how that idea terrifies AT&T. The idea that AT&T pressure played a role here doesn’t seem outlandish to me, given they’ve already exerted pressure to cripple 3G functionality for both the Skype and Slingbox applications.

  13. “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.”

    As Naga points out, you really don’t get it. You seem to ignore that without a SMS plan, AT&T charges 20 cents for each incoming and outgoing SMS message. If Google handles them, that’s lost revenue.

    But here’s another lost source of revenue. With GoogleVoice, you don’t need a Wifi connection to make international phone calls. AT&T currently charges $1.49/minute for those; doesn’t GoogleVoice charge under 10 cents a minute for most of those?

  14. Apple’s Google Voice rejection was last straw. Bye bye, iPhone and AT&T. Hello, Android. GV calling works flawlessly… and it’s free on T-Mobile. Just use your T-Mobile number and GV number in your myFaves.

  15. Om, in your relish to dismiss any outrage about this by painting Google as a bad monopoly, you’ve rather missed what the argument is actually about.

    The users are the ones losing out here, and developers who are even more worried about Apple’s capricious actions.

    If it’s not AT&Ts fault, then the problem highlighted is Apple’s closed, controlled app store, that is obviously leading to decisions that aren’t good for their customers. The fact that you think Google deserves no sympathy isn’t particularly relevant. It’s bad for the iPhone as a platform.

  16. Is AT&T’s inconstant policies between Blackberries and iPhones sufficient to declare definitively that the idea that this was AT&T’s doing is ‘flat-out wrong’? I can think of a half-dozen reasons why GV apps would be pulled from the iPhone store due to AT&T demands while still being available on Blackberry.

  17. The official reason: GV Mobile was “duplicating features that the iPhone comes with.”

    Apple needs to be punished, we should all use Android going forward. Android comes from a dozen mobile phone manufacturers, all competing on prices and features. While iphone is only Apple and is sold with ridiculously expensive mobile phone contracts.

  18. You say that if AT&T were responsible for blocking Google Voice on the iPhone, then it would have blocked Google Voice on Blackberry as well.

    I don’t know who made the decision, AT&T or Apple, but this reasoning is false. It is not possible for AT&T to block Google Voice on the Blackberry, whether they want to or not, because customers can install any application they like on a Blackberry.

    However, other people are making too much of the SMS argument: that AT&T would want to block any application that provided low cost SMS. Plenty of companies offer free or cheap text messaging for the iPhone, including Pinger (Textfree) and Gogii (textPlus).

    Google Voice is the boldest attempt that any company has made so far to reduce the phone company to a dumb pipe. Yes, you still pay AT&T for the calls, but that price is going to zero one day. The future may be ads, or content, or transactions, or something else entirely. If you route every call through Google first, Google will have the first bite of that revenue.

  19. As a recent convert from Windows Mobile to the iPhone, I do appreciate the polish and innovation that Apple brought to the mobile platform. However, it is ironic to me that Windows Mobile, while technically inferior and out of date, is the most open application platform out there. There are no restrictions whatsoever on the applications you can install on the device- in fact I’m not sure it’s even technically possible to have app-based DRM on WM. Maybe this is due to a lack of foresight on Microsoft’s part rather than some commitment to openness, but there’s an awful lot of innovation on WM these days- from alternate browsers like Opera Mobile 9.7, podcast RSS apps, to tethering apps that use the wifi hardware to turn your phone into a mobile access point. I’ll definitely keep my HTC Fuze around to see what’s happening in that application space.

    PS- I do miss multitasking, it would be nice to surf the web or check the weather while listening to a podcast.

  20. I disagree:

    • AT&T is not technically able to block apps on Blackberry devices, so the non-banning of similar apps on Blackberry devices is a red herring
    • Google Voice results in lost revenue for AT&T due to text messages and international calls, as other commenters have detailed above
    • Google Voice makes people even more carrier independent than number portability provides — this is bad news for carriers
    • Apple has no real incentive to ban this app
    • Phil Schiller from Apple personally approved this app, originally

  21. > there are certain officials in Washington who think Google is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and nothing
    > but a big, bad monopoly

    Google played as the underdog is a joke, but it’s an even bigger joke to suggest there is a single soul in either Washington (DC or state) that knows bit one about technology. If they did, they’d be in Silicon Valley.

  22. 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
    http://thenetworkgarden.com/weblog/2008/03/the-chess-maste.html

    Check it out, if interested.

    Mark

  23. 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.

  24. 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: http://www.troyangrignon.com/2009/07/28/apple-put-gv-mobile-back-youre-becoming-more-like-atfuckingt-all-the-time/

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

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

    http://www.seankovacs.com/index.php/gv-mobile/

    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.

    1. 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.

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

    http://www.seankovacs.com/index.php/gv-mobile/

    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!

  27. “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!

  28. 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!

    JB

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  30. 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.

    http://www.voicetalk.org/2009/07/28/apple-rejects-google-voice-iphone-apps/

    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.

  31. 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

  32. 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.

  33. 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”.

  34. 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!

  35. 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 google.com/voice, suddenly I get the “unable to connect to the mobile data service” error, however every other weblink including google.com works fine.

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

  36. 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…

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