No Google Voice on iPhone: one year later
Tech Crunch's Jason Kinkaid reminds us that it's been a year since Apple responded to the FCC about Google Voice's rejection (or perpetual non-acceptance) from the iPhone App Store.
Apple denying the app to those who want it, especially when it allows similar apps such as Line2 into the App Store, means it's almost certainly what we thought it was last year -- less to do with what the app does than what it represents.
Before the Google Voice rejection story broke Apple and Google still seemed to have a love affair going on. Apple provided beautiful devices and Google supplied incredible services. It was a match made in heaven.
Following the Google Voice rejection it became clear that those two goals were becoming less cooperative and more competitive. Apple wants their beautiful devices to be the focus, and to be able to swap in and out different services behind the scenes without affecting the UI or being noticeable to end users. Google on the other hand wants their incredible services to be the focus regardless of device, and to be able to easily swap users from iPhone or Pre to Google's own, growing, Android platform.
Apple's exclusionary control over the iPhone is a huge problem for Google, just as Google's predatory control over their services is a huge problem for Apple.
What if Apple pulled Google from the iPhone? Google could lose a huge percentage of revenue to Microsoft (or whomever Apple swaps in) in the blink of an eye. What if Google pulled their services from the iPhone? Apple could lose a ton of users to Android just as fast. (Whether Apple or Google would ever do that is besides the point -- it could happen, therefor strategically planning for the eventuality has to take place.)
Google transformed their original Android-as-BlackBerry competitor to an Android-as-iPhone competitor. Apple began building data centers, acquiring PlaceBase and Siri. And generally the move from friends to fremies to enemies progressed.
Apple has continued to tightly control their user experience, creating controversies with Adobe but also introducing new features like FaceTime which depend on Apple owning the phone UI, not Google.
Has the Google Voice rejection cost Apple customers? Probably. Given that a) Google Voice is still only available in the US means its absence only effects US users and b) it's still a mostly geek-centric service, further reducing the pool of potentially affected users. Of those affected, it's perhaps further split between those who really want the functionality of Android over the user experience of iPhone, and those who wanted to grab headlines (and in some cases quickly came back to that user experience). Google's also had their own set of controversies, especially concerning privacy, net-neutrality, some of the content that's ended up in their app market, and that their much vaunted openness applies primarily to manufacturers and carriers, not necessarily users. Whether or not that has cost them any users is equally hard to tell.
Most of Apple’s ardent defenders will simply tell people like me to go use another, more open platform if they have a problem with the App Store and Apple’s policies. Fair enough. But the time and uncertainty involved in having to switch to a new computer platform are far from trivial, and eventually we may have kids who are raised on iOS — getting them to switch platforms so they can use an innovative new browser or FaceTime competitor or whatever else Apple is quietly blocking from the App Store will be no easy task. It is this inertia, which is only going to become more difficult to overcome as iOS becomes more successful, that troubles me most. Apple will be able to get away with even more egregious behavior, because its users will want to stick with what they know.
And maybe so, but would moving from iPhone to Android really be any harder than moving from Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Contacts, Google Docs, Google Talk, Google Reader, Google Voice, Google Navigation, Blogger, and all their other services to Apple's, Microsoft's, or anyone else's? Probably not. (Personally, it's far, far easier for me to pick up a Nexus One, stick in my Google ID, and go than it ever would be to transfer all my Google stuff over to Microsoft or someone else if I had to -- even the thought of the work involved makes me wince.)
At the end of the day -- or of the next year -- Apple and Google have both become devils we know. Apple will reject another app for annoying, intolerable reasons and Google will allow in a Nazi theme or malware app. Apple will block a competing service and Google will abuse our privacy. What troubles me is the mistaken belief one is essentially better than the other. What assuages me is that we have both -- and potentially a resurgent and more open Palm webOS, and equally controlled Windows Phone on the horizon.