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Apple denies 'rejecting' Google Voice for iPhone

August 22, 2009|Alex Pham

Responding to federal regulators, Apple Inc. on Friday said it was still evaluating an iPhone app submitted by rival Google Inc. and had not rejected it. But analysts doubted that users would see the application approved any time soon.

The app, called Google Voice, would have let iPhone users route their calls through a central Google number, bypassing the iPhone's built-in calling system, which uses AT&T Inc.'s network.

Apple made its statement public Friday after the Federal Communications Commission last month asked Apple, Google and AT&T, the exclusive carrier for the iPhone in the U.S., to explain why Google's app had not been approved.

At the time, many observers denounced Apple for appearing to protect AT&T by restricting consumer access to a service that could chip away at the telecom firm's revenue.

In its letter to the FCC, Apple outlined its qualms about Google Voice, namely that it would supplant the carefully crafted look and feel of the iPhone.

"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 voice mail," Apple wrote.

Although Apple's statement seemed to leave the door open for Google to address the iPhone maker's myriad concerns, analysts said it would be nearly impossible for Google to meet Apple's demands and retain the core features of its app.

"At the root of this is a fight for control," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc., a technology consulting firm. "Apple is trying to maintain control over a key media, which is voice."

Google Voice, a service already available on the Web, allows users to consolidate their home, office and cellphone numbers by routing the calls through a central Google number. It records voice mail and sends written transcripts of the messages to users. The app would have allowed users to perform these functions directly from their iPhones.

Analysts said Apple's objections presented a formidable barrier for Google.

"Given those reasons, it would be very difficult for Google to offer a version that would still provide the primary value of Google Voice," said Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research.

Meanwhile, AT&T told the FCC it had no role in Apple's decision.

"AT&T was not asked about the matter by Apple at any time, nor did it offer any view one way or another," wrote James Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president, in a letter to the FCC.

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alex.pham@latimes.com

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