Why would Apple deny customers the Google Voice functionality and risk the ire of the FCC? eWEEK Labs' Andrew Garcia suspects it's because Apple is building a similar service for MobileMe.
The flap between Google and Apple over the latter's rejection of the Google
Voice application for the App Store has devolved to the point where the FCC has
started poking around. I've been asking myself exactly why Apple or AT&T
would stir up the hornet's nest to deny the technology and risk the ire of both
the government and one of their most valuable partners, and also why each
company's stance is full of contradictory actions.
After a little reflection, the answer became resoundingly clear: Apple is
building a similar service to add to MobileMe.
First, let's look at exactly what Google Voice-formerly known as
GrandCentral-currently is and is not.
As currently constructed, Google Voice is a VOIP-enabled relay point and
voice mailbox, providing one-number accessibility to numerous phones.
Google gives you a phone number, which can be configured to forward calls to
any other number you want. Put in your home, office and mobile numbers, and
Google Voice will ring incoming calls through to all of them simultaneously to
find you. If you don't pick up, Google Voice takes a voice message, which
can be transcribed into text automatically and sent to you via SMS or
e-mail. Or, you can listen to the message by logging into the Website or
clicking a link in the e-mail.
You can also dial out via Google Voice, designating the phone on which you
will take the call, in addition to the number you wish to dial.
So Google Voice is not a VOIP client in the traditional sense, unlike Skype
or Gizmo. Because Google Voice forwards calls everywhere, the service will
use VOIP to route calls around Google's network, but all calls will hop off to
the PSTN or cell networks to find the callers at the designated
endpoints. Certainly this could remove some calls from a mobile operator's
billing purview and could definitely impact usage of its voicemail system, but
really it depends on what the user sets and where they pick up.
AT&T has been the logical scapegoat in the App Store rejection, and
surely over time the inclusion of the application on the iPhone could
eventually lead to a reduction in minutes used by AT&T's
customers. But while AT&T may have voiced some displeasure to Apple over
the application, the service provider has done nothing to remove vestiges of
the application from the rest of its network-it hasn't denied the application
from other devices (BlackBerrys), nor has it blocked access to the Google Voice
As longtime GrandCentral users may know, the old Website was barely
operational in mobile browsers as it was primarily Flash-based. Mobile
users could not check their messages on the Web page, and iPhone users could
not simply download a voice recording, as the iPhone didn't support that
However, since Google Voice appeared this spring, the Website works just
fine through the iPhone's browser. Users can check messages, change
settings or initiate calls. An on-device application would certainly make
the experience cleaner and easier, and provide integration into the phone's
contact database, but is absolutely not required for Google Voice mobile
But, really, if it was solely AT&T looking to block Google Voice's entry
into the App Store, couldn't Apple simply certify the application for
international markets but not release it in the U.S.
store? There have been plenty of instances in which Apple has certified
applications in the United States
but not made them available internationally. (Skype in Canada,
anyone?) Surely Apple could do the reverse, if it was interested.
Instead, Apple rejected Google Voice outright, under the "Conflicts
with existing services" blanket rejection, without specifying exactly where
the conflict is. As we've seen in the past (with the Podcaster application
and with NullRiver's tethering application, NetShare), Apple feels free to use
this excuse even if it doesn't actually offer a comparable service at the time
In hindsight in both of these cases, the conflicting features were in
development at Apple at the time of rejection. Podcast downloading was
added last November in iPhone OS 2.2, while tethering was added this summer in
the 3.0 update, even if AT&T has not yet chosen to light up the feature
domestically-in both cases, well after Apple's initial rejection.
Given that history, I think we can assume Apple is truly the primary culprit
in the rejection of both Google Voice and associated third-party tools (GV
Mobile) because it is building out its own one-number solution. I, for one,
think that Apple was planning just such announcement for early next year,
before the current brouhaha arose.
Let's face it: Right now, MobileMe is really boring and expensive, providing
limited storage and duplicate communications services that many get elsewhere
for free, despite the introduction of new Find My iPhone feature. One-number portability would greatly enhance the value and usability of
MobileMe-as well as its viability in the marketplace. And since the market
is still very young (Google Voice is available by invite only), Apple could
quickly gain a sizable piece of market share if it could attract the
still-burgeoning iPhone audience into the fold.
But first, Apple has to do a little of something it does best-stifle
competition within its ecosystem.
Senior Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.