The Federal Communications Commission has begun an inquiry into Apple’s rejection of the official Google Voice app for the iPhone and their subsequent removal of other Google Voice related apps which had already been approved. The FCC has asked Apple to justify why they chose to reject and remove the Google Voice app, as well as what influence AT&T had on the decision as the exclusive carrier of mobile service for the iPhone.
Apple has been on a roll for the past few years with innovative products and technologies that have captured the imagination of consumers and helped Apple to build a solid fan base. Starting with iTunes and iPods, then taking the mobile phone world by storm with the Apple iPhone. As the marketing tagline says, no matter what you want to do ‘there’s an app for that.’ Apparently that is not true if you want to connect with Google Voice.
The inquiry, while not an official investigation at this point, is part of a larger crusade on the part of the FCC into the legitimacy of exclusive agreements between mobile phone developers and mobile service providers. It is standard practice for many models of phone to be available exclusively from one provider as a part of a partnership agreement, but the FCC is looking into that practice to determine if it should be allowed.
Beyond the FCC inquiry though, this decision by Apple seems ill-conceived and short-sighted. By censoring the Google Voice app, Apple is inviting the sort of backlash recently experienced by Amazon when they attempted to censor certain books from their Kindle book reader device.
Apple benefits from users completely embracing the iPhone- not only as a mobile phone, but as a platform for performing all sorts of tasks and managing all aspects of their lives. Apple has censored other apps based on criteria related to whether or not the apps infringe on any copyright or violate certain standards of decency. That does not seem to be the case though with the Google Voice app or the related apps which Apple had already approved.
One implication seems to be that AT&T may have exerted some influence to prevent users from being able to use Google Voice for things like text messaging which would bypass the text messaging service that AT&T charges customers for. If it is true though, the backlash and negative publicity hardly seem worth it.
Users of a Google Voice app on an iPhone would still be paying customers of AT&T with monthly service plans and the contractually obligated data plan that is a requirement for iPhones. The iPhone users are already a captive audience for AT&T regardless of what apps they use and would rely on the mobile service and data connectivity to use Google Voice.
Both Apple and AT&T would stand to benefit and grow in popularity if they embraced Google Voice. By rejecting the app they have alienated customers and developers and brought attention from the FCC on the monopolistic aspects of their exclusivity agreement.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.