Who Rejected Google Voice for iPhone? AT&T: Not Us. Google: REDACTED. Apple: We're "Studying" It, Not Rejecting It.
“Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it.”
So begins Apple’s response to the Federal Communication Commission’s inquiry into its rejection of the app and of its App Store approval process. Seems Google Voice was withheld from the App Store not because of any ill feeling toward Google or a nefarious request from AT&T, but because it too closely mimics the iPhone OS, including management of calls, voicemail and text messages. From Apple’s statement:
Question 1. Why did Apple reject the Google Voice application for iPhone and remove related third-party applications from its App Store?
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. Apple spent a lot of time and effort developing this distinct and innovative way to seamlessly deliver core functionality of the iPhone. For example, on an iPhone, the “Phone” icon that is always shown at the bottom of the Home Screen launches Apple’s mobile telephone application, providing access to Favorites, Recents, Contacts, a Keypad, and Visual Voicemail. The Google Voice application replaces Apple’s Visual Voicemail by routing calls through a separate Google Voice telephone number that stores any voicemail, preventing voicemail from being stored on the iPhone, i.e., disabling Apple’s Visual Voicemail. Similarly, SMS text messages are managed through the Google hub—replacing the iPhone’s text messaging feature. 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.
Question 2. Did Apple act alone, or in consultation with AT&T, in deciding to reject the Google Voice application and related applications? If the latter, please describe the communications between Apple and AT&T in connection with the decision to reject Google Voice. Are there any contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T that affected Apple’s decision in this matter?
Apple is acting alone and has not consulted with AT&T about whether or not to approve the Google Voice application. No contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T have been a factor in Apple’s decision-making process in this matter.
In a response of its own, AT&T (T) also said this was the case:
1(a). What role, if any, did AT&T play in Apple’s consideration of the Google Voice and related applications?
AT&T had no role in Apple’s consideration of Google Voice or related applications.
1(b). What role, if any, does AT&T play in consideration of iPhone applications generally?
The Apple App Store is owned, operated and controlled by Apple, not AT&T, and Apple makes the decisions regarding the specific applications that are approved for use on the iPhone or included in the Apple App Store. AT&T does not participate in Apple’s day-to-day consideration of specific applications, nor does Apple typically notify AT&T prior to including applications in the App Store. Apple also does not usually advise AT&T after specific applications have been added to the App Store, which reportedly contains more than 65,000 applications. AT&T has had discussions with Apple regarding only a handful of applications that have been submitted to Apple for review where, as described below, there were concerns that the application might create significant network congestion.
And what is Google’s (GOOG) public reply to the whole affair? Nada. The company had more to say to the government, via a response to FCC queries. But in the copy of the document that’s been released for public consumption, the most interesting stuff has been redacted. To wit: “What explanation was given (if any) for Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice application?…Please describe any communications between Google and AT&T or Apple on this topic and a summary of any meetings or discussion.” (Click on text below to enlarge.)
Now that’s a little odd, isn’t it? Why would Google ask the FCC to redact portions of its statement? Says Google: “[Because the redacted] information relates specifically to private business discussions between Apple and Google and, as such, it constitutes commercial data ‘which would customarily be guarded from competitors.’”
That satisfy your curiosity? Doesn’t satisfy mine, either.
(Peter Kafka contributed to this post.)
UPDATE: AT&T may not participate in “Apple’s day-to-day consideration of specific applications,” but its presence is still felt during the approval process. From Apple’s (AAPL) response:
There is a provision in Apple’s agreement with AT&T that obligates Apple not to include functionality in any Apple phone that enables a customer to use AT&T’s cellular network service to originate or terminate a VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) session without obtaining AT&T’s permission. Apple honors this obligation, in addition to respecting AT&T’s customer terms of service, which, for example, prohibit an AT&T customer from using AT&T’s cellular service to redirect a TV signal to an iPhone. From time to time, AT&T has expressed concerns regarding network efficiency and potential network congestion associated with certain applications, and Apple takes such concerns into consideration.
UPDATE: An interesting nugget from AT&T’s statement:
It is widely recognized by economists and jurists that parties to strategic alliances in competitive markets may enter into contracts to promote and protect their respective business interests and to refrain from taking actions adverse to those interests.12 Consistent with such lawful, economically efficient practices common among parties to strategic alliances, including participants in the mobile wireless marketplace,13 AT&T and Apple agreed that Apple would not take affirmative steps to enable an iPhone to use AT&T’s wireless service (including 2G, 3G and Wi-Fi) to make VoIP calls without first obtaining AT&T’s consent. AT&T and Apple also agreed, however, that if a third party enables an iPhone to make VoIP calls using AT&T’s wireless service, Apple would have no obligation to take action against that third party….AT&T indicated to Apple that it does not object to Apple enabling VoIP applications for the iPhone that use Wi-Fi connectivity (including connectivity at more than 20,000 Wi-Fi hotspots operated by AT&T that may be used by iPhone customers for no additional charge) rather than AT&T’s 2G or 3G wireless data services….we plan to take a fresh look at possibly authorizing VoIP capabilities on the iPhone for use on AT&T’s 3G network.