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Who rejected Google Voice on the iPhone?

Apple's decision not exactly rocket science

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So Apple is taking the fall and AT&T washes its hands of the whole affair, but would Apple still be examining Google Voice if approval wouldn't upset its biggest customer?

The responses to the FCC investigation are in, and clearly state that there was no contractual agreement between AT&T and Apple to prevent VoIP, or Google Voice, style applications on the iPhone, but when Apple's arguments for rejecting the Google Voice application are so thin one has to ask if their desire to avoid upsetting its biggest customer isn't more compelling than any written contract.

Now that all the responses are public you can read and draw your own conclusions. Google's is somewhat redacted (pdf) but that doesn't matter as Google doesn't have a whole lot to say on the matter other than emphasising how much better the native application is than the web-based alternative.

Apple, on the other hand, has a great deal to say on the matter, arguing that it hasn't rejected Google Voice and other similar applications. It insists that it is still pondering the issue, which will come as a nice surprise to the developers who had been told their apps had been rejected.

Apple's key argument is that a native Google Voice application would confuse users by replacing the default iPhone voice and text interfaces, and "the iPhone user’s entire Contacts database is transferred to Google’s servers, and we have yet to obtain any assurances from Google that this data will only be used in appropriate ways." So the lads in Cupertino are just trying to protect the users, and keep their lives simple.

But that argument breaks down when one takes a glance at the iTunes Application Store, as aggrieved-developer Steve Kovacs did: Truphone, Skype and Fring applications all replace the dialling application (for use over Wi-Fi) while TextFree, FreeSMS and Texter all replace the text interface. As for the argument about lifting customer data, FriendSync will send all your contacts into the Facebook Cloud, while Sync in a Blink will share them with Google in just the way that Apple finds so offensive.

AT&T's response (pdf) is mostly concerned with what a great company AT&T is, along with the occasional pop at Amazon and it's monopoly access to the Kindle store. The operator does confirm that no contractual agreement existed between itself and Apple regarding applications.

Apple has, apparently, been in touch regarding some streaming video applications but the two companies "agreed ... that if a third party enables an iPhone to make VoIP calls using AT&T's wireless service, Apple would have no obligation to take action against that third party."

The key word there is "obligation". While Apple may claim to have millions of iPhone customers, its biggest customer by far is AT&T, who admit that the iPhone receives "the largest subsidy AT&T has ever provided on a wireless handset."

So while the FCC hasn't uncovered any contractually-obligated conspiracy, it now faces the far more complicated questions of if it can really prevent Apple from simply ensuring that its product appeals to its largest customer. ®

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