How many iPhone apps has O2 banned from the App Store?

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Today, 0870, a fantastic free iPhone app from freelance mobile developer Simon Maddox is at last available in the UK App Store, after a whopping 429 days in the approval process. And it appears that O2 was largely to blame for the hold up.

As I wrote on my Telegraph post on the subject:

To understand the delay, we need to understand the app. 0870 turns 08* numbers — such as 0870, 0845 and 0800 — which cost 35p per minute to call (on top of what you’re already paying for your contracted minutes) into 01* or 02* numbers, which come out of your allowance or are very cheap on Pay As You Go.

Essentially, 0870 makes it a lot cheaper for iPhone users to call the 08* numbers that a lot of organisations use as one way to generate revenue off their call centres. It costs more to call an 08* number than it does to call a geographic landline number, so understandably, there has been consumer backlash in the form of SayNoTo0870 – a website that collects landline alternatives to 08* numbers.

The 0870 app searches this database for the 08* number you’re trying to call, and if it finds an alternative landline number, you’re given the option to call it from directly within the app, using the allowance you’ve already paid for.

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It’s been available for Android users since January this year, and Maddox estimates that it’s saved users around £84,000 since then, basing the figure on the number of successful conversions * 0.35 * 5 minutes per call.

I wasn’t surprised when I heard in June this year that Apple had rejected the 0870 app when Maddox first submitted it. After all, Apple is notorious for banning apps from their store for reasons that sometimes make perfect sense and sometimes make no sense at all.

In this case, it was the latter. Apple rejected 0870 “for attempting to ‘circumvent carrier features and policies‘”.

In August, Maddox contacted Apple to find out if there was any way to get 0870 into the App Store. And this is where it gets really interesting. His contact within Apple told him:

I was told that when we originally brought this up to O2, they had an issue with this. However, based on your message, I’ve tried to contact O2 again, and hope to have an answer early next week.

[A week and a half later]

I’ve finally gotten word from O2 that neither they, nor anyone at BT, would be happy about this service.

So it looks like Apple rejected 0870 because the app stepped on Apple’s network partner’s anti-competitive toes. It’s not clear what changed O2’s mind in this instance – all Maddox says is that there was some to-ing and fro-ing after which O2 finally decided to allow the App in the App Store. Apple then approved the app within hours.

My guess is that O2 realised that they didn’t have much of a leg to stand on if they couldn’t specify exactly which of its carrier features and policies were being circumvented by an app automating a look-up that any human could do using Safari on the iPhone.

It sounds like a storm in a teacup but to me it speaks of something with potentially tons of impact on developers and any companies focusing on the mobile web. Here is proof that you need to develop your shiz for as many platforms and networks as you can, because if you have only one route to market and the incumbent player decides they don’t want the disruption and the competition, you’re screwed. I doubt Maddox would have had half the attention or interest in 0870 on the iPhone had he not had the Android stats to use as leverage.

On that note, I’m not sure if other European markets have a similar approach to non-geographic numbers, but I’m sure our readers do – tell all in the comments. If you want to see 0870 ported to other platforms or would like to see a version of 0870 that works in your region, you can find Simon on Twitter: @simonmaddox.

The app has to date been a free to use, not-for-profit endeavour. The latest iPhone version is still free but ad-funded, which I don’t really have a problem with – a freelance developer’s got to eat. Still, I do think a donation style approach would be more appropriate to this sort of ‘public good’ application.

  • Adam

    Sounds like a really good idea but I would say to make an ad free version for £1 or whatever as well ‘cos I wouldn’t really want ads displayed if I could pay a one off fee to avoid them.

  • Josh

    Tip to developer: create it as a web app? Apple has no control over these afaik.

    • Andrew Chalkley

      Nice one Josh!

  • Johan

    They don’t care anymore about it now because 0870 number come next month are changing from “charging the caller” to “charging the company that is being called”. Most of those companies have jumped ship to 0844 which is similar to 0870 in as far as that the caller pays. But it’s a very modest fee. The charges for 0870 are generally much exaggerated. 35p a minute is way off the mark for most implementation. Ours was like 2p over normal regional rates. Never meant as a revenue generator, just something to cover telco costs with. We too moved to 0844 as we didn’t fancy paying for being called. They new number will also earn us a tiny fee per call. Barely a dent on the P&L.

    So my guess is that O2/BT don’t care anymore as 0870 is going out of fashion anyway. That whole database will have to be rewritten to accommodate 0844.

    • Andy Merrett

      The web site already admirably handles all 08** numbers that it knows about, so I don’t see why rewriting is necessary at all, subject to the database itself being updated, which is a much less painful and immediate process than having to update the app.

  • Michael

    Thanks Bash for posting this here. This daylight robbery needs as big a voice as it can possibly get.

    @Johan you seem to miss the part where it says :

    the app. 0870 turns 08* numbers — such as 0870, 0845 and 0800

    So moving to 084 isn’t going to help much. And I do not believe that ALL companies are using the exhorbitant fees charged for these numbers just to cover costs, but I am glad to hear there is one out there.

    I have never understood the concept of charging a potential customer for the call they need to make to purchase a product or service or for support. Its ridiculous!

  • bushra

    have noticed that @o2 are now trying to reach Bash to discuss this. i would be peeved to find that the saynoto0870 app has been blocked by o2, but then i can still access the site on safari anyways.

  • Jakob Stoeck

    Same thing in Germany for 0180* numbers.
    There is a lookup service under

    App looks good and the ads aren’t too intrusive.

  • Free iPhone App

    Thank you very much for this informative post.

  • it support bradford

    I’ve used and guys its just a brilliant service and free too. Many of these companies are making a lot of money from us consumers just out of these 08* numbers.

    Well done …we value your website.

    Computer Advice Blog
    IT Support Bradford

  • Slava

    I wonder how long it will take until Cydia app store gains popularity. I’d love to have access to some of the apps that don’t go past the screening process of carriers. Google voice would be nice :)

    I love how the later posts are simply people trying to spam links to their site in comments, even trying to put their desired link title attribute instead of their name, all while comment links are no-follow rel.

  • Jamie

    So wait, you think that O2 has some say in the App store? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH

    No carrier has any input whatsoever, Apple decides and its one way with no feedback loop for the operator.

    If you dont believe me on this one take a look at the Google / Apple / AT&T debate. You want to blame the carriers but as with all things Apple they control the entire experience and there is no leeway for anyone.

  • contract free iphone

    nice one!

  • 0845 Numbers

    This is such a interesting post, i cant stop myself to comment on it.

  • Josephine Murdock

    I am glad you said that!

    chat hamburg

  • caps

    There is a lookup service under top quality MLB caps

  • Facebook App Developer

    I do not believe that ALL companies are using the exhorbitant fees charged for these numbers just to cover costs, but I am glad to hear there is one out there.

  • Roger White

    Those apps are essentially an interactive telephone directory , so why would O2 want to ban them? Forcing people to use extremely expensive 0870 numbers on their mobile phones is completely wrong in my view.

  • Mick

    I like this one.The iPhone app from freelance mobile developer Simon Maddox is at last available in the UK.The written skill is so amazing.I appreciate to this one.Thaks to share this blog.

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