FCC investigates Google Voice for iPhone

An ongoing saga of whether Google Voice will be allowed on Apple’s iPhone has, for the moment, died down.

In an eventful few weeks, Google, Apple and AT&T have waged a war of words and been investigated by the Federal Communications Commission, all regarding the Google Voice application for the iPhone.

Google Voice is an enhanced voice and data messaging application that consolidates phone service to one number accessible from anywhere.

For instance, someone with a personal cell, a business cell and a work phone number could have a Google Voice account that would re-route all calls and messages to the Google Voice number.

Among its attributes, Google Voice claims to be able to transcribe voicemails for free, host conference calls, lower the cost of international calls, and organize text messages and e-mails with no need to ever delete them.

Google Voice is also considered a Voice over Internet Protocol application. Google bought the service from a company called GrandCentral in 2007, and redeveloped the application in secret until this year, The New York Times reported in March.

Here’s the rub: Google Voice submitted an application for Apple’s App Store to be placed on the iPhone. Google said Apple rejected Google Voice, and Apple claimed they did not.

The main issue is that the Google Voice application could interfere with the active phone function in the iPhone, provided by AT&T. In essence there would be two separate phone services on one phone.

Patrick Blume, technical support specialist for Marquette IT Services, said when Google bought the old GrandCentral service it offered another option in the wireless market.

“Google’s VoIP service gives everything for free and can be competitive with any phone company,” he said.

In July, the FCC launched an inquiry into the submission as part of a larger investigation into the exclusivity between cell phone providers and service carriers. Apple has an exclusive contract with AT&T to provide wireless service for the iPhone.

Google, Apple, and AT&T all submitted responses to the FCC inquiry. None of the companies were available for comment and referred all inquiries to the responses.

In an Aug. 21 response to the FCC, Google claimed its App Store version of Google Voice could directly access the iPhone address book and dial straight from the application.

However, Google said Apple rejected this application. The explanation of why Apple rejected Google Voice was redacted in Google’s official response to the FCC.

When asked why Apple rejected Google Voice, Apple responded in an Aug. 21 release by saying that contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application and continues to study it.

In total, Apple’s App Store features more than 65,000 approved applications, according to their FCC response. AT&T said in their Aug. 21 response to the FCC inquiry they have no involvement in what applications are approved or not for the App Store.

Marquette technical support specialist Blume said AT&T may have played a role in the rejection, since Google would become an active competitor.

“It would take the essential phone functions and negate AT&T’s service,” he said. “It’s a U.S. phone number from whatever area you pick. It could take the place of what AT&T is doing.”

Eric Benderoff, editor of Appolicious, a Web site that reviews and recommends applications for the iPhone or other mobile devices, said this is as much a power struggle between corporations as anything else.

“I recall Apple saying they haven’t rejected Google Voice even though it’s not available for the iPhone,” Benderoff said. “In the big picture, the issue is another example of the tech giants battling for market share and mind share across several fronts.”