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Google tosses free texting

iPhone app vendors betrayed

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Google is pulling access to the XMPP API that allows third-party applications to send SMS messages with the Mountain View chocolate factory footing the bill, much to the annoyance of app developers.

Most notable amongst the companies taking advantage of Google's largess is Innerfence, whose "Infinite SMS" iPhone application was little more than a pretty wrapper for the API that allowed buyers to send SMS messages around the world while Google paid the network operators for the traffic. That was a relationship which was hardly going to last forever.

Innerfence didn't get a lot of notice of the API being pulled, as the company explained: "Our first warning was an unexpected call from Google on Monday, 9 March 2009, indicating that the service might be blocked as soon as the very next day". Innerfence immediately pulled its application from the iTunes store, but those who bought the application prior to that are pretty annoyed to be told it's now useless.

As one buyer put it: "Where is the money that I used to buy this SMS app? I want an explonation[sic] why we shouldn’t get a refund. Make a new app that does the same thing."

Making a new application to send free SMS won't be easy. Sending text messages isn't cheap as Twitter discovered, and while there used to be hundreds of gateways offering free texting in the hope of drawing traffic, Google is one of the last.

Even Google can't keep paying operators without any recompense, and it's issued a statement making it clear that while the API was publicly announced it never emerged from the Google Labs, and therefore third parties shouldn't have bet their business model on it. "While Google is supportive of third party apps, we've decided we can't support this particular usage of our system at this time," it said. "SMS chat is still just an experiment in the early testing stages in Gmail Labs."

Buyers of Infinite SMS should have understood that nothing is free, and if Google can't find a way of turning a profit by paying to carry other people's traffic, then odds are no one else is going to manage either. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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