Apple Bans Google Voice Apps From iPhone

Apple shuts the door on all Google Voice applications, including third-party applications that support search engine giant Google’s VOIP and telephony product, which is rolling out to more users

In a sign that Apple will not always play nice with Google, Apple has banned the Google Voice application, as well as third-party Google Voice applications, from its iPhone App Store, ostensibly because Google Voice features compete with those in the iPhone.

Reached by phone July 18, Apple spokesperson Jennifer Bowcock declined to comment, but a Google spokesperson confirmed the ban of Google Voice in a statement to eWEEK on 27 July:

“Apple did not approve the Google Voice application we submitted six weeks ago to the Apple App Store. We will continue to work to bring our services to iPhone users—for example, by taking advantage of advances in mobile browsers.”

The move was first reported by TechCrunch and there is additional coverage on TechMeme.

Earlier in the day on 27 July, iPhone application developer Sean Kovacs said his popular application GV Mobile, which lets users make calls and send SMS (Short Message Service) messages from a Google Voice number to any other number in a contact list, was also removed from the App Store.

Kovacs wrote in his blog: “Richard Chipman from Apple just called—he told me they’re removing GV Mobile from the App Store due to it duplicating features that the iPhone comes with (Dialer, SMS, etc). He didn’t actually specify which features, although I assume the whole app in general.”

VoiceCentral, which does the same thing GV Mobile does, was also banned from the App Store, but not until reporters asked Google about Google Voice did anyone learn that Google’s application had been give the cold shoulder as well.

While Apple is maintaining its silence on the subject, TechCrunch speculates that Apple’s treatment of Google Voice applications comes courtesy of sole iPhone carrier AT&T. Update: Daring Fireball’s John Gruber confirmed this through a source.

Phone companies are leery of Google Voice, which does an end run around their services by providing free SMS and cheap international calling services.

Enderle Group analyst Rob Enderle acknowledged that Apple and AT&T would indeed have reason to shunt Google Voice to the side. Enderle told eWEEK:

With Google Voice, the competitive issue would exist with both Apple and AT&T because it reverses the strategy Apple has with iTunes and Safari on the PC (use them to pull customers to Apple products from Windows) to apply to the new Android phone platform and, since it is VOIP [voice over IP], it potentially cuts AT&T’s revenue stream as well.

More broadly, Enderle noted that programmers are having a hard time figuring out what applications will or won’t be accepted in the App Store, adding that Apple is showing a trend toward blocking or crippling applications that appear to be competing.

Enderle pointed to streaming music application Slacker, which is crippled on the iPhone and can’t be used on an airplane. However, Slacker works on a BlackBerry during flight just fine.

“Out here [in Silicon Valley], the metaphor used to describe Apple’s app approval process is ‘Russian Roulette,'” Enderle quipped.

The combination of a cryptic process and this anticompetitive behavior has some developers turning to write programs for Research In Motion’s BlackBerry operating system, Google’s Android OS and Palm’s Palm WebOS, Enderle said.

The banning of Google Voice and associated applications isn’t the first time Google has had to kowtow to Apple. Google introduced Google Latitude for the iPhone 23vJuly, but must now rewrite it to be a Web application.

“After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple requested we release Latitude as a Web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone, which uses Google to serve maps tiles,” Google Mobile Team Product Manager Mat Balez wrote in a blog post.

Apple’s chilliness toward Google’s Web services is interesting given Google’s supposed closeness with Apple. Analysts have long seen Google and Apple as linked arm and arm against enemy Microsoft, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt commands a seat on Apple’s board.

The question is how long Apple and Google will remain close as they continue along their competitive path regarding Web services for mobile phones.