Google: We Never Blocked Skype From Android

We’re all waiting with bated breath for the results of an FCC inquiry that’s currently investigating why Apple has banned Google Voice from its App Store — each company is due to submit their answers to the FCC today, and Google may well be the only company to emerge without egg on its face.

But this morning USA Todayprinted an article that cast doubt Google’s supposedly benevolent and open approach to mobile software. The article alleges that Google has blocked a full version of Skype from its Android platform, instructing the company to build a new version that didn’t have full VoIP capabilities — a move that sounds ridiculous after the Google Voice/Apple fiasco. But it looks like USA Today’s story may be misleading.

From the USA today piece:

Consumers who use Android, the Google-developed operating system for wireless devices, can’t use Skype, a leading Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service. A pioneer in free Internet calling, Skype allows you to talk as long as you want without draining cellphone minutes.

Android users get Skype Lite, a watered-down version of the original that routes calls over traditional phone networks — not the Internet. As a result, long-distance calls are still cheap or free, but cellphone minutes are gobbled up every time a Skype Lite call is made.

Ben Scott, public policy director of Free Press, a consumer advocacy group, says Google “is in an awkward spot. On the one hand, their application is being blocked on the Apple App Store. But on the other hand, they engaged in similar behavior” with Skype.

So did Google really block a VoIP app at a carrier’s request, or perhaps on its own accord? The truth, according to Andy Rubin, Google’s VP of Mobile Platforms, is much less sinister: earlier versions of Android didn’t support Skype because of technological shortcomings, but subsequent software updates have enabled full VoIP solutions. From Rubin’s blog post on Google’s Public Policy Blog:

“Here are the facts, clear and simple: While the first generation of our Android software did not support full-featured VoIP applications due to technology limitations, we have worked through those limitations in subsequent versions of Android, and developers are now able to build and upload VoIP services….

As we told USA Today earlier in the week Google did not reject an application from Skype or from any other company that provides VoIP services. To suggest otherwise is false. At this point no software developer — including Skype — has implemented a complete VoIP application for Android. But we’re excited to see — and use — these applications when they’re submitted, because they often provide more choice and options for users. We also look forward to the day when consumers can access any application, including VoIP apps, from any device, on any network.”

Also worth noting: even if Google did block an application from the Android Marketplace, users could still download apps elsewhere because Android isn’t a closed platform. We’re following up with Skype and Google to get more details.