Behind Apple's Thumbs Down on Google Voice

Apple's decision to reject the Google Voice app for the iPhone was spelled out to Google by one of Apple's top executives: Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide product marketing.

Schiller's role in the decision was revealed Friday when the FCC released the full text of Google's confidential letter describing the events around the decision, in response to a set of FCC questions about the rejection. Google originally had requested parts of the letter remain confidential but later withdrew the request rather than fight a spate of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits filed by third parties.

The confidential portions don't add much new substance to what's already known. They provide some details revealing a series of high-level contacts between executives of the two companies. And they don't put to rest the lingering suspicions of some that AT&T, the iPhone's exclusive U.S. carrier, had a hand in the decision, despite the carrier's denial of any role.

In the letter, Google says it was told by Apple that Google Voice was being rejected for inclusion in the App Store because it duplicated the dialing function of the iPhone.

Google Voice for iPhone is software, formerly called GrandCentral, that creates a Google Voice number for a user, from which he can make calls and send and receive SMS messages, and that lets iPhone users manage their phone numbers and voicemail. The letter reveals that Google submitted the app to Apple on June 2. In a July 7 phone call, Schiller told Alan Eustace, Google senior vice president of Engineering & Research, that the app was being rejected because of concerns it duplicated the phone's dialer. During July, Schiller and Eustace communicated several times on the subject, through a combination of meetings, calls and emails.

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In Apple's own letter to the FCC, previously released, the company insists Google Voice was not rejected. Instead, the letter says, the app has "not been approved" and continues to be studied. Apple elaborates on its reasons for not approving Google Voice: "[I]t 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."

Around the same time, Apple dropped from the App Store three other, previously approved third-party Google Voice applications, according to an Ars Technica story, which reported that one of the developers, Sean Kovacs of GV Mobile, "claims his app was personally approved by Phil Schiller in April." The others were GVDialer (and GVDialer Lite, from MobileMax, and VoiceCentral, from Riverturn.

Apple's letter, over the signature of Catherin Novelli, vice president of government affairs, also cites other concerns, some of which are still not resolved. These ongoing issues seem to be the basis for Apple's insistence that it has not actually rejected Google Voice. Those issue include the transfer of the user's contacts database and other data to Google's cloud-based services. "[W]e have yet to obtain any assurances from Google that this data will only be used in appropriate ways," Apple's letter noted.

"These factors present several new issues and questions to us that we are still pondering at this time," according to the Novelli letter.

The newly released Google letter says the company had no contact with AT&T.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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