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Apple Withheld Google Voice Approval For Altering User Experience

Responding to an FCC inquiry, Apple has cited user experience changes and privacy concerns as the reason that Google Voice has not been approved for the iPhone.

In its response to the Federal Communications Commission about why the Google Voice app wasn't approved for use on the iPhone, Apple explains that Google Voice changed the user experience that it believes is best.

"The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone's distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone's core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail," Apple said in a statement posted on its Web site.

Apple also said Google Voice's importation of the Contacts database represented a privacy concern. "[T]he 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," Apple said.

Apple insists that Google Voice has not been rejected and that it continues to study the application.

It's not clear whether the limbo of being studied and outright rejection are different, however. FreedomVOICE Systems, maker of an iPhone voice application called Newber, claims that it has been waiting for Apple's approval for 323 days and counting as of Friday, August 21.

The CEO of FreedomVOICE declared in March that his company had ceased development of Newber as a consequence of lack of communication from Apple.

Apple confirmed AT&T's claim that it had nothing to do with not approving Google Voice. It said that it acted on its own and outside of any contractual obligation to AT&T.

Separately, Apple acknowledged that its agreement with AT&T obligates it "not to include functionality in any Apple phone that enables a customer to use AT&T's cellular network service to originate or terminate a VoIP session without obtaining AT&T's permission."

Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, a media freedom advocacy group, said in a statement that AT&T's acknowledgment of VoIP limitations underscores the need for network neutrality guarantees.

"The FCC's inquiry into Google Voice has ripped back the curtain on the wireless market and revealed AT&T's secret veto power over applications on the iPhone that offer consumers voice services over the Internet," he said. "Google Voice may not have been caught up in this dragnet, but it appears the Skype application was not so fortunate. AT&T's letter suggests they may reconsider permitting the Skype application in the face of this scrutiny. But the potential chilling effect of AT&T's gatekeeper power is critical reminder of why the FCC must protect consumers."

Apple said that it received approximately 8,500 new applications and updates per week for its App Store and that about 20% of them are not approved as submitted. It did not provide information about how many developers address Apple's concerns and get their applications approved following a subsequent review.

Separately, Google filed a response to the FCC's inquiry. But ironically, given Google's public advocacy for openness and Apple's reputation for secrecy, Google's answer to the FCC's second question, about why Google believed Apple rejected Google Voice, was redacted in the copy of the letter made available to the public.

Registration is now open for the leading enterprise communications event, VoiceCon. It happens in San Francisco, Nov. 2-5. Find out more and register.

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