AT&T: Don't Blame Us For The iPhone's Google Voice Ban

The outcry over the Google Voice ban on the App Store is still going strong, with hundreds of news stories, developer posts, and complaints putting the story in and out of Twitter’s top trends for nearly three days running. Much of the blame has been directed at AT&T, over beliefs that the carrier forced Apple’s hand in its decision to ban the applications. Now it looks like AT&T believes it’s been wrongly accused, and it’s beginning to take a stand for itself.

Last time we reached out to AT&T to comment on the story, the company gave TechCrunch writer MG Siegler a very blunt and brief statement:

“Nope – Apple is the one who can talk about their App Store.”

But today, the company has begun sending out more detailed messages to some of the frustrated customers who have been voicing their complaints. The message below was written by Glenn Lurie, AT&T’s President of Emerging Devices and Resale.

Your letter concerning Apple’s decision on the Google Voice iPhone app was forwarded to me since I work closely with Apple.

While we’re very proud to offer the iPhone 3GS along with the thousands of apps available through the App Store, AT&T does not manage the App Store – and we are not involved in the approval process for apps in the App Store. I recommend in this particular case that you express your concerns to Apple.

I’m glad you’re enjoying your iPhone and hope that you continue to be an AT&T customer. We appreciate and value your business.

Glenn Lurie

AT&T’s stance is no longer that it can’t talk about the App Store — it’s that it doesn’t manage the App Store, and that any concerns about this case should be directed at Apple. Of course, the note leaves plenty of wiggle room for AT&T. The company may not be necessarily “managing” the approval process, but it could easily be the whispering in the ears of the people who do. And to say that AT&T isn’t involved at all seems highly unlikely as well — why would Apple cripple apps like Sling were it not over bandwidth concerns voiced by AT&T? Still, there must be some reason why AT&T is beginning to change its tune. AT&T would be foolish to paint a bulls-eye on Apple as it tries to extend its incredibly valuable exclusive iPhone contract, but it’s doing what it can to deflect a few of the blows coming from its frustrated customers.

We followed up on the letter above by getting in touch with AT&T, at which point an AT&T spokesman said that the company stood by what Lurie had written and that we should contact Apple for any further information. Apple spokesman Steve Dowling refused to comment on the matter. Our brief conversation, which consisted largely of “we haven’t made any comment on that” responses, included this gem:

JK: Are you planning to comment?
SD: We haven’t made any comment on that.

So where does the blame truly lie? It’s unlikely we’ll ever get a straight answer. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber has cited a reliable source in saying that it was “AT&T that objected to Google Voice apps for the iPhone. It’s that simple.” And I myself suspect that the blame lies largely with AT&T. But others, like Om Malik, believe that Apple should be bearing the brunt of the blame.

But in the end, users don’t really care who is to blame, provided the issue gets resolved quickly. If that doesn’t happen, developers will continue to lose faith in the App Store’s walled garden approach. Apple will lose its glossy luster, and some will seek lusher platforms where they’re sure they can actually release the applications they’ve spent months building. The iPhone may be dominating this space now, but we’re really only about two years into this new era of smart phones — it’s a bit early for Apple to be embittering developers with such regularity.

Thanks to Jason Walke for the tip.