But whatever happens in this round, Apple will ultimately lose the fight. It’s only a matter of time before Google Voice comes to the iPhone. Why? There are too many factors working against Apple for it to maintain its anti-consumer stance on this issue.
The FCC is investigating the matter, and it’s a safe bet the Feds aren’t keen on Apple’s handling of Google Voice. In fact, the FCC may very well interpret Apple’s actions as a violation of Net neutrality principles — essentially, that ISPs shouldn’t block or impair the ability of consumers to use Internet services — and ultimately pressure Cupertino to soften its stance on Google Voice. While one could argue that Apple isn’t an ISP, the company certainly is a major player in the wireless industry.
The public wants VoIP apps like Google Voice, which provides one number for all of your phone lines, and lets you manage voice services online. Skype for iPhone is popular too. Unfortunately, Apple has crippled it. You can use Skype for iPhone to make calls over Wi-Fi, but not via AT&T’s 3G or EDGE networks. Apple’s hardball stance on these matters isn’t winning the company friends among consumer groups or lawmakers, who see these limitations as anti-consumer.
Competitive pressures will force Apple to lighten up. Google Voice may not run on the iPhone, but it will on a BlackBerry. As VoIP calling grows in popularity–and it will because it’s cheaper than using voice minutes–Apple will have to change with the times or fall behind.
Apple looks like a big bully. Its public image is at stake. Consumers will think Apple is siding with its evil-empire buddy AT&T, which wants to keep the money rolling in from its lucrative voice plans. And even if Apple’s contractual obligations make the situation more complicated than that, many people will see Apple as the bad guy.
Apple is in denial. VoIP is the future of mobile calling. The traditional “voice plan” will fade away; phone calls will be just another application on the high-speed wireless network. We’re seeing the start of that with mobile versions of Skype, Google Voice, and Vonage.