AT&T And Co Answer US Regulator’s Google Voice Questions


Google, Apple and AT&T all answer the Federal Communications Commission’s questions about the band of the Google Voice application from Apple’s iPhone App Store

If the public was expecting any startling wizard to reveal himself from behind the curtain of controversy surrounding Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice application for its iPhone App Store, it was sorely disappointed. In fact, answers about the issue from Apple, AT&T and Google to the Federal Communications Commission may leave the public more confused.

That’s because Apple claimed it has not technically rejected Google Voice from its App Store; it just hasn’t accepted it yet because it is still studying it. Exclusive iPhone carrier AT&T denied it had anything to do with why Google Voice was not accepted to the App Store. Google fueled the intrigue by requesting confidentiality in many of its answers to the FCC, which requested clarity from the three companies about the Google Voice brouhaha.

Google Voice is a call management application that gives users one phone number through which to route their phone calls to home, work and mobile phone. Google submitted a version of the application to Apple’s App Store in the hope that it would run on Apple’s iPhone. Google revealed that Apple had also rejected its version of Google Voice for the iPhone in July after Apple booted third-party applications from its App Store. Apple declined to provide reasons for the Google Voice ban.

The FCC on 31 July sent letters to Google, Apple and AT&T to find out why all this happened; the three companies responded on 21 Aug.

Apple said the Google Voice application has not been approved because it replaces the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voice mail. In short, Apple feels the Google Voice application cuts into some of the action provided by the iPhone’s operating system, its crown jewel. Apple explained the overlaps between Google Voice and 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.”

However, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington blasted these statements as outright lies and claimed that Apple did in fact reject Google Voice. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber was also discomfited by Apple’s apparent “semantic hair splitting”; is it fair to classify something that has not been rejected unapproved?

Apple in its letter also invited Google to submit Google Voice as a Web application to run on Apple’s Safari Web browser, a familiar refrain among the increasingly convergent worlds of Google and Apple, one-time allies against archrival Microsoft. Google has said it is working on such a Web app. Google in July also launched a Web app for its Google Latitude social location service for the iPhone.

AT&T, which did itself no favors by simply telling journalists to talk to Apple about the ban, said it had no role in any decision by Apple to not accept the Google Voice application for inclusion in the Apple App Store.

“AT&T was not asked about the matter by Apple at any time, nor did we offer any view one way or the other,” Jim Cicconi, AT&T senior executive vice president, external and legislative affairs, said in a statement. “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.”

Many suspected AT&T was behind the ban because it feared Google Voice was encroaching on its wireless data service turf. Google Voice lets users send text messages and make international calls for two cents a minute, services that AT&T provides to its customers for healthy fees.

Google answered the FCC’s questions, but apart from explaining Google Voice in exhaustive detail, the company requested confidentiality in answering questions about what Apple told Google regarding the ban. Google’s hush-hush approach is surprising; telling the media what Apple said to it regarding the ban would increase the pressure on an already harried Apple. Google may be erring on the side of diplomacy as it readies a Web app version of Google Voice for the App Store.

The FCC, which is looking into the issue as part of a broader investigation into practices in the wireless market by carriers (particularly handset exclusivity such as AT&T’s deal with the iPhone), said it is reviewing the letters.

Expect the focus to shift squarely on Apple now that it has revealed its intentions regarding Google Voice and shed new light on its App Store practices.