Today has brought yet another big fuss about Apple rejecting an iPhone App Store submission. This time it wasn’t some random developer but none other than Google. The app was a companion to the Google Voice (GV) service, which ironically, I just received an invitation to yesterday. The blame and outrage has been pretty evenly spread between Apple and AT&T and rightly so. The problem I have with some of the commentary out there now is that everyone seems to be making assumptions and illogical leaps to back up their claim on who is at fault. For example GigaOm writes:
…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?
The problem with this is that you can get the GV app for the BlackBerry directly from Google. There is no app-store-like gatekeeper in the case of the BlackBerry when it comes to this app. I’m not sure how AT&T could ban this app on a BlackBerry. Perhaps there is a simple answer to this that I am unaware of, but on the surface, I don’t think there is a way. The same argument could be made when the Sling Player debacle is brought up for comparison.
This statement also attempts to minimize AT&T’s concern based on the fact you still must use AT&T lines to dial. This is true, but it doesn’t account for those precious SMS messages for which AT&T likes to charge way too much. If Google can offer unlimited text messages for free, most people would drop that $20 per month plan they have with Ma Bell.
I also would not underestimate the power that GV takes away from the carrier as a reason for AT&T to disapprove. GV gives the end user much more control over their telephone number than the typical mobile service does. With GV, I can choose which phones ring when someone calls. I can mark annoying callers as spam. I can change mobile numbers any time I want, and once I update GV, it is completely transparent to those calling on my GV number. It really takes number portability to the next level in my mind.
It also takes the visual voicemail concept a step further by not only giving access to voicemail in an e-mail-like view, but also adding voicemail transcription as well. Perhaps this didn’t sit to well with Apple who might see this as Google one-upping them on their own home field. This along with the fact that Google is one of Apple’s up and coming rivals in the modern wireless handset wars could have lead to Apple’s disapproval. This fact was not lost on John Gruber of Daring Fireball:
And, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, I’m not sure the decision is entirely unreasonable. 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? 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? Just saying.
According to Gruber’s sources, it was AT&T in the end that killed this app likely for many of the reasons stated above, but I’m not inclined to let Apple off the hook so easily. In the end it is the Apple iPhone and App Store, so at least some of the blame has to come back to them. GV has the opportunity to be a game changer, and the iPhone had the potential to showcase it well, but for now, it’s just another case of a disappointing App Store rejection and a stifling of innovation on state of the art technology.