App spat between Google, Apple resumes over Google Voice fate

In latest on the dispute, Google claims Apple barred its app; Apple says it didn't

Google today said Apple rejected Google Voice for the iPhone's App Store last July, a move that prompted the FCC to start an investigation into Apple's software submission practices.

Last month, after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched a probe into the dispute over Google Voice, Apple denied that it had rejected the software. The FCC demanded answers from Google, Apple and AT&T, the exclusive U.S. mobile carrier for the iPhone when it heard reports that Apple had blocked Google Voice from the App Store, the only sanctioned marketplace for iPhone and iPod Touch applications.

Google Voice lets users decide which phone numbers are rung, and in which order, when a call is placed to a central number. The service also allows users to place inexpensive calls from mobile devices, bypassing the cellular carrier.

"Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it," Apple said in its August letter to the FCC.

Today, Google asked the FCC to make public a section of its letter that had been previously redacted, explaining that several organizations had filed Freedom of Information Act requests asking to see the text that was previously omitted from the public version.

According to Google, Apple rejected Google Voice on July 7, when Google's senior vice president of engineering and research, Alan Eustace, spoke with Philip Schiller, Apple's head of marketing, in a telephone call. "It was during this call that Mr. Schiller informed Mr. Eustace that Apple was rejecting the Google Voice application," said Google's letter to the FCC.

Google also noted that discussions between the companies lasted most of July, starting July 5 and ending July 28. "In a series of in-person meetings, phone calls, and e-mails ... Apple and Google representatives discussed the approval status of the Google Voice application that was submitted on June 2, 2009," Google told the FCC.

Apple barred Google Voice from the App Store because Apple claimed Google's program "duplicated the core dialer functionality of the iPhone," said Google. "The Apple representatives indicated that the company did not want applications that could potentially replace such functionally," the company continued.

Apple has often used that rationale when it has rejected submissions. In July, it pulled several Google Voice-related programs from the App Store, including Riverturn's VoiceCentral, for example, citing that reason. Kevin Duerr, Riverturn's CEO, went public with his complaints about Apple's behavior, and said that a company representative had refused to explain why VoiceCentral was yanked, other than to repeatedly say it "duplicates features of the iPhone."

Previously, Apple had been more specific when asked to explain why it had not approved Google's software. "The Google Voice application replaces Apple's Visual Voicemail by routing calls through a separate Google Voice telephone number that stores any voicemail, preventing voicemail from being stored on the iPhone, i.e., disabling Apple's Visual Voicemail," Apple said in its August letter to the FCC.

It also named Google Voice's SMS feature as a problem, and said it was worried about how the application grabbed contacts from the iPhone.

Today, Apple took exception to Google's description of the brouhaha. "Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application and we continue to discuss it with Google," said Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris, repeating what Apple had told the FCC, when it said it was still "pondering" the application. "We do not agree with all of the statements made by Google in their FCC letter," Kerris added.

The FCC's letters to Apple, Google and AT&T are part of a wide-ranging investigation into wireless industry practices, including the exclusive arrangements between handset makers and mobile carriers. Two weeks ago, the FCC formally approved that, and other, inquiries.

The unredacted version of Google's letter to the FCC is available on the agency's site (download PDF).

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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