Apple's ban of GV = WIN for Android

John Walton
Cell Phone Editor
| Published: July 28, 2009

Likely attributable to Apple's snuggly relationship with AT&T, iPhone just suffered a serious blow in the form of non-competitive practices. For those who missed the news yesterday, Apple removed Sean Kovacs' Google Voice application, GV Mobile, from the App Store, vaguely citing duplicate features as the reason.

Google Voice allows users to establish a phone number other than that associated with their mobile account and make calls, send texts, etc., via that number. It also provides rich contact grouping and call routing functions, as well as email transcriptions of voice mail. Applications have been developed for various platforms that effectively inject access to a user's Google Voice account into the applications the phone natively uses for dialing, sending messages, and reaching voice mail. It's like having an alternate carrier at your fingertips.

VoiceCentral, an iPhone app similar to GV Mobile, was also banned, indicating a call has been sent down from the upper echelon to target such code. So effectively, Apple is saying we can't use third-party Google Voice apps on their phones. So what? Who cares? Why is AT&T suspected of unfair play? Because Google Voice offers cheaper SMS and international calling. And Apple's exclusivity agreement probably doesn't contain a provisio allowing other carriers to jump in through the back door.

Google has an official Google Voice program for iPhone on the way, but there has been no clarification of whether the pulling of VoiceCentral and Google Voice was a preemptive strike to make way for a sanctioned program, or if Apple is taking a stand against Google Voice altogether. Considering the recent tossing of a native iPhone app for Google's Latitude in favor of a web version, it doesn't seem the two are holding hands.

So there's a brief summary of what's going on. My contribution here is that I'm going to play down the possibility that Apple's tactics are a crushing tragedy for the future of Google Voice, and highlight the opportunity this turn of events presents for Android. (Did you expect anything less?)

Google Voice is huge. Android is huge. I think both represent significant changes (and advancement, in my case) in the way we use and perceive our mobile phones. iPhone may be the only game in town in the eyes of the average smartphone consumer right now, but the display of fireworks I hope and expect to see from Android and Google Voice in the coming year could change that. And the big G, who should not be underestimated, is just the giant to parade the benefits of open software through the suburban malls of America. It doesn't matter if consumers know what open means.

iPhone is the embodiment of a closed product line, and Google is quickly becoming the high-profile champion of FLOSS. While I don't think Android is currently capable of making a dent in the existing iPhone user base, I can see an attention grabbing phone like Hero (and soon, hopefully, a super beefed-up HTC Sense successor) causing an iPhone-bound shopper to think twice.

Everyone and their grandmother has an iPhone, and what kid wants the same phone as their dad? Adults, on the other hand, will be seduced by the benefits of Google Voice, I think. I won't complain any more about the lack of Hero in T-Mo USA's line up, even though I totally want one and am sticking with magenta. I really want to see that thing sitting next to the iPhone in AT&T stores. That's the best place in the world for it, really. Consideration for App Store maturity, iTunes integration, and a killer fit for folks who like other Apple products, could fall by the wayside in the face of a sexy new interface and hip, bold design.

I suppose at this point I should acknowledge the observations of seasoned bloggers who have tested the Hero, and admit that lag is the Achillies' heel of the device. iPhone's non-multitasking swiftness would probably be the most apparent score for Apple if the two were being compared side-by-side. Still, I hope a grand and noble battle is about to begin. If not Hero, then the next one. Arm it to the teeth, HTC. And give it a name worthy of a merciless warrior. Ares? Mars, perhaps? No, screw the lower gods. Go for Zeus!