Monday, July 27, 2009

The Apple-Google War: The Battle of Google Voice

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. Karl Marx.

Steve Lyon’s Fake Steve Jobs captured the Chromestellation start of the Apple-Google war

.. Sure we're cool, **********. We're cool as a piece of key lime pie. You just keep telling yourself that, and you won't even feel it when the bullet hits the back of your ugly ********** head…

The first skirmish was the battle of Latitude. Apple rejected Google’s long awaited iPhone location app.

That’s about when we noticed that the long promised Google Voice app was showing up everywhere … except the iPhone.

Today the Battle of Google Voice began in earnest

… Richard Chipman from Apple just called - he told me they’re removing GV Mobile from the App Store due to it duplicating features that the iPhone comes with (Dialer, SMS, etc). He didn’t actually specify which features, although I assume the whole app in general. He wouldn’t send a confirmation email either - too scared I would post it…

I’ve been using GV Mobile for months. It and its GrandCentral predecessor have been saving me about $80 a month. That’s money that used to go to AT&T – and, probably, Apple.

Yeah, there are grounds for War.

We’ve been here before. In the 90s Sun and Netscape promised to create a cross-platform application ecosystem. I was part of a startup that began on that platform. HTML and a bit of JavaScript for forms, client-side Java for big stuff like voice recording. Then Sun decided it was going to be the platform, and Netscape decided to launch “Netscape Constellation” (the precursor to Chrome OS).

That didn’t end well. Java died on the desktop, Netscape died everywhere, and Microsoft’s evil laughter shook hte heavens.

So we’re there again, with Apple playing the role of Sun, Google playing Netscape, and Microsoft …

I’ve got a foot in each camp; for me this Tech War is Civil. My iPhone is my auxiliary brain – if it had a keyboard add-on it would be 8/10 perfect. On the other foot, Google is my daily bread – from Google Apps to Blogger to Search to Calendar to Email to … Basically, I use most of what they provide.

Maybe I should just give up and wait for Windows 7.

In the meantime, our October iPhone 3GS purchase is on hold. I really need to see what Apple does now; cutting off Google Voice is a bridge too far. If Apple doesn’t back down soon, we’re going to have to back out of our iPhone commitment.

Update: Voice Central was also pulled.

Update 7/28/09: I wonder if Google will be able to use this Apple/AT&T action as a defense against antitrust litigation if, say, they buy Sprint. Conversely, I wonder if the EU will use it as evidence in their antitrust litigation against Apple. Lastly, as well as reevaluating purchase of our 2nd iPhone, I'm now more likely to but a Windows 7 netbook (of course eventually this will be a Chrome netbook) rather than another MacBook.

Blog reports also claim that Apple's VP of marketing, Phil Schiller, had personally intervened to approve GV Mobile for the App Store -- pointing towards AT&T as the villain. Perhaps, but that was before the launch of Chrome OS and before Apple denied the Latitude app. I suspect Apple and AT&T are aligned on this one.

Update 7/28/09: Related articles ...

The Guardian's article has an excellent summary ...

... Apple has rejected the Google's Voice application for the iPhone saying that it duplicated features in the popular smart phone. The move has called into question the control that Apple exerts over approving applications and whether the rejection and others constitute anti-competitive behaviour...

A Google spokesman told TechCrunch:

We work hard to bring Google applications to a number of mobile platforms, including the iPhone. Apple did not approve the Google Voice application we submitted six weeks ago to the Apple App Store. We will continue to work to bring our services to iPhone users — for example, by taking advantage of advances in mobile browsers.

As Apple rejected Google's own official Voice application, it also pulledGoogle Voice apps from third party developers, such as GV Mobile, VoiceCentral and GVDialer. iPhone developer Sean Kovacs, the creator of GV Mobile, wrote on his blog:

Richard Chipman from Apple just called - he told me they're removing GV Mobile from the App Store due to it duplicating features that the iPhone comes with (Dialer, SMS, etc). He didn't actually specify which features, although I assume the whole app in general.

... if you really want Google Voice on a mobile phone, it's available on for smartphones running Google's Android operating system or Research in Motion's Blackberry.

Gruber weighs in: basically he agrees with my intuition -- this is an Apple move as much as an AT&T move "Google Voice doesn’t just interfere with the carrier’s business model, it interfere’s with Apple’s iPhone business model. Not just AT&T but all iPhone carrier partners pay Apple a hefty subsidy for every iPhone sold, and that subsidy is based on assumptions about how much the average iPhone customer is going to pay in monthly service charges for voice, data, and SMS." Gruber calls this "reasonable", I'd have used the word "rational". He declines to point out how big a problem this is for users; the reason the move is rational is that it blocks competition.

GMSV report

Some further thoughts of mine ...
  • I agree with those who feel this was a Steve Jobs move.
  • The iPhone is now ready for the Chinese marketplace, and Apple has become Singapore.
  • I'm pretty confident I'll be buying a Windows 7 netbook in the fall.
  • I definitely won't be buying an Apple tablet if, as expected, it's a bigger iTouch.
  • I need to start following the gPhone
  • In this Civil War, I side with Google.
Update: DF says he (and I) were wrong - it was AT&T that drove this rejection. Business Week responds (indirectly) - "why haven’t the Blackberry and Android versions, which would cause the same headaches for carriers, [been] banned?"

The NYT quotes analysts speculating that AT&T pulled the trigger and Apple is contractually obligated to obey. So does this mean that any of Apple's partners can eliminate an App everywhere in the world?

Update 7/29/09: Tech Chrunch - AT&T can't handle the iPhone. There's a plaintive note that AT&T might allow Google Voice if they lost iPhone exclusivity. That was sweet.

Also, the VoiceCentral removal. The transcription of "Richard's" dialog exposes Apple's transparent lies. At the very least they should say "We're removing your app and we aren't going to give you a reason".

Update 7/30/09: Excellent Lifehacker rant.

Update 7/31/09
  • Michael Arrington quites the iPhone and pays his AT&T termination fee. He's going to and Android phone enroute to the Pre (but if the Pre has a closed App Store, won't Sprint block Google Voice?).
  • Dan Moren of MacWorld writes a cogent response. Apple may end up with the world's greatest collection of fart apps. The story isn't dying and may yet break mainstream. Pogue has been curiously silent however.
  • Stephen Frank (co-founder, Panic) quits the iPhone. He's (emphases mine) ...

    1) Converting my iPhone SIM into a DataConnect SIM for use with a laptop...

    2) Switching to a Palm Pre for voice and light data usage. I looked at the Pre and the G1. The Pre is (very) slightly better at what I need. They are both lousy in comparison to the iPhone.... (Palm’s app store is still in a beta lock-down — they haven’t had a chance to screw it up yet. If they do, it’ll be time for Plan C.)

    3) Not buying any future iPhone OS based devices, including the “tablet”, should it ever surface, until the issues with app store policy are demonstrably improved.

My later related posts:
Update 7/31/09b - The FCC sends letters. See also - Enter the FCC

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