Yesterday, we saw a Vonage app hit the App Store, which seemed to go against Apple and AT&T’s previous stance that VoIP apps that work over the 3G (and 2G) network would not be allowed in the App Store. Turns out there’s been a policy change. AT&T has just announced that it will no longer restrict VoIP apps that use its network on the iPhone, a move which is long overdue considering that it was already allowing these on other phones.
But don’t be fooled. A rumor earlier today about the move suggested that AT&T was thinking about letting Google Voice on the iPhone alongside Skype, Vonage, and other VoIP apps. There’s two problems here. First, Google Voice isn’t actually a VoIP app. Second, AT&T did not have anything to do with the Google Voice rejection (or non-approval, whatever), that was all Apple.
Apple has never said it blocked the Google Voice app because it was a VoIP app (which would have fallen under its agreement with AT&T to do so), it blocked it because it said it emulated many of the features of the actual phone portion of the iPhone, and would confuse customers. That’s pretty much crap, especially considering that the Vonage app which was just approved also looks like the iPhone’s phone portion.
And here’s where things get really interesting. Since the Vonage app does look so much like the iPhone dialer, maybe it is a signal that Apple is gearing up to do the right thing and allow the app into the store. We’ve stated from the beginning that we thought that was likely to eventually happen, following the huge negative reaction about the rejection.
But again, that has nothing to do with VoIP apps now being allowed in the store, because Google Voice is not one of them. Google Voice does not place calls over the Internet. Instead, it uses a current phone line to both place and receive calls. It simply gives you a new number to use as well as records certain information routed through that number, this is not VoIP. That’s not to say it will not do VoIP eventually, but right now it does not. And if Apple tries to now allow Google Voice in the store under that guise (that VoIP is now okay), that would be extremely disingenuous.
This move seems to be simply AT&T looking at scrutiny from the FCC (brought about by the Google Voice thing), and also seeing moves like Verizon teaming up with Android to do phones that will offer Google Voice, and attempting to make sure that it is not again portrayed to be the bad guy here. Of course, at the same time, they’re also petitioning the FCC to look into Google Voice, which we think is fair (but also hypocritical) under net neutrality ideals — even if Google doesn’t think it should.
Look for more shake out from all of this.