Even without knowing who drove this decision and why, we can draw some preliminary lessons:
1. AT&T/Apple will use their App Store control to protect their revenue streams. Obvious, but most commentators don't understand how much revenue we're talking about here. It's all about long distance revenue, especially international calling, and SMS. Google Voice is an order of magnitude cheaper than AT&T for international calls and there's an expectation that GV can kill AT&T's SMS business. Since Apple's business interests are very broad, buying an iPhone now seems equivalent to committing to obtaining a wide range of goods and services through Apple.2. AT&T isn't impacted (much) by the iTouch, but the Google Voice clients were removed from all devices. That's an important lesson for all Apple devices.3. The iPhone is sold internationally. Google Voice is being beta tested in at least one country outside the US and will be an international solution. AT&T doesn't have an interest in those markets, but Apple removed Google Voice clients from every market. Does this mean that any Apple phone partner can remove apps everywhere? What about the apps China doesn't like?
As for me, based on what we've learned so far, AT&T is on my blacklist and I'm going to be keeping my distance from Apple too.
Update 7/31/09: The impeccable logic of Apple/AT&T’s attack on my pocketbook. As I continue to turn this story over in my head I’ve come to think that the iPhone’s flaw (for me) is the App Store.
That’s ironic, because the App Store’s distribution channel and calibrated Digital Rights Management (DRM) have been brilliantly successful, and helped make the iPhone a smashing success. So how can the App Store be such a problem (for me)?
The problem isn’t the DRM or the distribution channel or the usual App Store criticisms (slow updates, no demo versions, etc). All of those criticisms are relatively able to fix. The real problem of the App Store, for a consumer, is that it gives Apple and its business partners too much control.
The App Store could keep the things that make it great, such as the measured DRM and distribution channel, even if there was an open option for iPhone app installation that was outside of Apple’s control. The open option would introduce more risk (virus, etc) for users, but it would also provide a distribution channel for products like Google Latitude and Voice. Its very existence would force Apple/AT&T to accept more competition, and would improve the App Store channel.
Apple/AT&T won’t create this open option, but smartphone vendors that want to challenge Apple could. Vendors who have a lot of power, and a lot to lose.