Why Apple Must Embrace Google Voice This Time

In order to make amends for legions of iPhone users upset at the first rejection, Apple needs to take advantage of this second opportunity with the Google Voice app and accept that new app with open arms

Apple is getting another chance at welcoming the Google Voice telephony app. Only this time, when Google finally makes its app available, Apple might not have a choice. So, to save face, Apple needs to welcome it, accept that iPhone owners will use it, and move on.

David Pogue of The New York Times reported in his column Thursday that the new Google Voice app “will take the form of a specialized, iPhone-shaped Web page.” According to Pogue, the app will do basically everything that the original Google Voice app did, but this one will be available online. Users will be able to access it from their mobile Safari browser. Thanks to the iPhone’s ability to place bookmarked Web pages on the home screen, users would have easy access to the app as if it were a native application they downloaded from the Apple App Store.

It’s a bold move by Google. The company’s Google Voice app was rejected by Apple, which claimed it had too many features that overlapped with iPhone functionality. When that happened, the blogosphere exploded, leading some folks to question Apple’s motives. It also left a bad taste in the mouths of many iPhone owners who want to have the additional option of placing calls through Google’s service.

By making its app available online through the mobile Safari browser, Google can effectively cut Apple out of the equation. Since the app won’t be in the App Store, it doesn’t need Apple’s approval. More importantly, it doesn’t need to wait for Apple to reject it once again for little or no reason. It’s a workaround. And it’s something that could make Apple look bad. Or, if it plays its cards right, it could help it redeem itself.

At this point, which avenue it will take is in doubt. Will Apple make itself look worse by denouncing the online app? If it does, it puts itself in a dangerous position. Apple has no leverage when it comes to online apps. If an iPhone owner attempts to access an app through their Safari browser, there should be no problem with that. Sure, it might be optimised to work with the iPhone, but since it’s not being offered in Apple’s store, Apple has no basis for judgment. Realizing that, the worst mistake Apple could make is condemn the Google Voice app. It would make the company look petty. It would make it seem like it’s trying to bully developers, rather than help them get their software in the hands of millions. Worst of all, it would ignite another controversy, putting Apple’s bullying back in front of the millions of people who read blogs to find out what’s going on in the world. That’s something Apple doesn’t need.

What it does need is to get back in the good graces of those who were upset with its decision to reject the Google Voice app. At this point, it only really has two options: go back and allow the original Google Voice app or welcome the online version.

The first option won’t happen. If Apple goes back and allows the Google Voice app into its App Store, it will be faced with countless complaints from other developers that were snubbed. Worse, it sets a precedent that if Apple faces enough pressure, it will back down. That’s a luxury Apple can’t afford to give up. It has made billions of dollars by not backing down. Should a Google Voice app put that into jeopardy? I don’t think so.

That’s precisely why Apple needs to welcome the online Google Voice app with open arms. True, because it’s online, it doesn’t necessarily need to say anything, but in reality, Apple does need to say something. It needs to quell the unrest. It needs to show that it’s not draconian in everything it does. Most importantly, it needs to show, by welcoming the Google Voice online app, that it realizes it made a mistake and it’s sorry for it. It doesn’t necessarily have to say that it’s sorry, but by acknowledging Google’s app, I think its actions will indicate that.

So what does Apple gain by doing that? First off, it gets the blogosphere off its back. It will be commended. All will be well in Apple land. Apple will then be able to get back to what it does best: blocking apps for, what some developers say, no good reason. Only with those cases, small developers are creating those apps, so no one realizes or cares.

Apple doesn’t need to change anything in its strategy in the App Store. It just needs to make a public event out of accepting some blame for the Google Voice fiasco.

Is that so hard?