Apple has banned iPhone applications based on Google Voice in a new sign of growing rivalry between the powerful Silicon Valley allies, which have drawn recent regulatory attention for their close ties.
An Apple representative on Monday told Sean Kovacs, an independent programmer whose GV Mobile app was rejected, that some of the small program’s functions were too close to what the iPhone already offers.
Google confirmed that its official iPhone app was rejected as well, though it has versions for the BlackBerry and Google’s own Android operating system for mobile phones.
Google Voice is a well-regarded service still in testing that allows users to receive calls from multiple phone numbers and place cheap international calls.
The controversial decision shows the disadvantages to Apple users of its “walled garden” approach and the expanding number of fronts on which Apple and Google compete.
Beyond Android-based handsets, Google in the past year has introduced a web browser and has announced plans for a PC operating system. The two soon may butt heads in electronic books as well.
All of this comes in spite of the fact that Eric Schmidt, Google chief executive, sits on Apple’s board of directors, which has triggered an antitrust inquiry by the US Federal Trade Commission, and the fact that the two are among the big technology firms subject to a Justice Department inquiry into whether they have improper policies against poaching each other’s employees.
Apple and Google are on good terms elsewhere. The default search engine for the iPhone is Google’s and Google Maps is another core function.
Many technology enthusiasts suspect that the driver of the ban on Google Voice was AT&T, the carrier that currently enjoys the exclusive right to provide service to US iPhone owners. In a similar conflict, Apple allows Skype, the voice over internet protocol service, to work at WiFi hotspots but not over AT&T’s main data connections.
While using Google Voice still eats up airtime minutes, the inexpensive international calls could cut into AT&T profits. “I think it’s AT&T being concerned about consumers looking to manage their costs,” said Forrester analyst Charles Golvin. Apple also blocked an app called VoiceCentral.
AT&T and Apple declined to comment. Google said it “will continue to work to bring our services to iPhone users – for example, by taking advantage of advances in mobile browsers”.
If AT&T is to blame, it would reflect the growing alarm on the part of carriers at the advances in voice services available through the internet. As more people move to smart phones that surf the Web, there are more ways that they can circumvent the voice networks that have been a mainstay of revenue for the telecommunications companies.