Google Voice App Rejection: AT&T Blames, Apple Denies, Google Hides
Federal regulators wanted to know why Apple rejected Google’s innovative Voice app from its iPhone app store and what role AT&T played in the rejection. The rejection drew sharp criticism from around the net that Apple and AT&T were using their dominant position in the smartphone market to stifle innovation.
On Friday, AT&T told the FCC it had no part in the decision, while Apple claims it never happened. Instead, the company is still just “studying” Google’s application, which is taking a long time because the Voice service might be too confusing for iPhone users, Apple vice president Catherine Novelli wrote in a seven-page letter.
As for Google’s side of the story? We still don’t know.
The search giant, which likes to pride itself on openness and transparency and doing no evil, told its side to the FCC in a confidential filing, but blacked it out in the accompanying public one. Google was the only one of the three companies to use this option.
The FCC asked the tech giants three weeks ago to explain why the app was rejected, what role AT&T played in keeping a competitive service off the popular device and what rules Apple and Google use to decide which apps get sold by their respective app stores (Android, in the case of Google).
Google Voice lets users use a single number to handle all calls, and Google redirects the calls to users’ home, mobile and work phones. It also provides free SMS and cheap long-distance calling, but phone calls and SMS message still use voice minutes and SMS services on a cell phone plan. AT&T initially declined comment on the matter in July — leading many to blame the telecom giant for blocking a competitive service. But AT&T’s denial to the FCC left no wiggle room.
AT&T was not asked about the matter by Apple at any time, nor did it offer any view one way or the other. More broadly, AT&T does not own, operate or control the Apple App Store and is not typically consulted regarding the approval or rejection of applications for the App Store or informed when an application is approved or rejected. Furthermore, AT&T does not block consumers from accessing any lawful website on the Internet.
Apple was less forthcoming:
Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it. The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail…. In addition, the iPhone user’s entire Contacts database is transferred to Google’s servers, and we have yet to obtain any assurances from Google that this data will only be used in appropriate ways. These factors present several new issues and questions to us that we are still pondering at this time.
AT&T and Apple told the FCC that they did have an agreement that Apple would not help iPhone owners use VOIP calling services like Skype on the iPhone. VOIP calls use the data, rather than the voice plan, and would cut into the companies’ profits. Thus, Apple and AT&T agreed to cripple the Skype iPhone app so it would only work when the iPhone used a Wi-Fi connection. The companies say they also agree not to let in apps that stream live television, which AT&T says would strain its network.
As for Google and its app store? Its FCC filing emphasizes that Android phone users can get apps from outside the store — unlike iPhone users. (Users can “jailbreak” their iPhones to do so, but this invalidates the warranty.) It says only 1 percent of apps in its online marketplace have been rejected, mostly because of copyright or obscenity reasons. Google did not, however, mention that it, too, crippled mobile apps at the request of a telecom. T-Mobile asked Google to remove apps that let customers use their phone as a modem for a laptop, a practice known as tethering, and Google complied. T-Mobile, like all of the United States’ largest carriers, charges customers extra for that service. Google later re-allowed the app, but not for T-Mobile customers.
Also on Wired.com