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Apple Denies Google Voice App for iPhone

Google said Apple has rejected its Google Voice application for the iPhone in the latest flap over how much freedom developers have in creating apps that may compete with the core business of AT&T, the iPhone's exclusive carrier.

Google Voice -- the company's VoIP call-routing service -- became available as Android and BlackBerry applications in mid-July, offering smartphone owners a centralized platform for handling a unified number, SMS and automated voicemail transcription. At the time, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) said it was preparing to release a mobile voice app for the iPhone.

But Google spokespeople told InternetNews.com that Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) nixed the application after it had been submitted for approval to the iPhone's App Store.

"We work hard to bring Google applications to a number of mobile platforms, including the iPhone," a Google spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com. "Apple did not approve the Google Voice application we submitted six weeks ago to the Apple App Store. We will continue to work to bring our services to iPhone users -- for example, by taking advantage of advances in mobile browsers."

Other developers of Google Voice have reported being likewise locked out from the App Store.

Sean Kovacs, who developed a Google Voice-based iPhone app called GV Mobile, reported yesterday that an Apple representative told him that his app would be removed from the App Store, "due to it duplicating features that the iPhone comes with (Dialer, SMS, etc.)," Kovacs said in a blog post.

"He didn't actually specify which features, although I assume the whole app in general," Kovacs added.

Kovacs also claimed that the Google Voice iPhone app had been personally endorsed last April by Apple's Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, who called him to discuss the status of the project.

Spokespeople for Apple and AT&T (NYSE: T) declined to comment.

It's unclear what's motivating Apple's moves, though widespread speculation has it that AT&T, which holds the exclusive contract for the iPhone -- and which subsidizes sales of the device to subscribers -- is playing a key role in the app rejections.

At issue, presumably, could be the loss of revenue AT&T would realize if iPhone owners used Google Voice Mobile to make lower-rate international calls and to send SMS messages, which would be funded through a user's data plan as opposed to through texting fees.

Based on how Google Voice operates on other mobile operating systems, calls made on the iPhone app, however, would still incur minutes purchased under a user's AT&T plan.

The Google Voice Mobile iPhone app flap is not the first time that Apple has acted to ban an app that could be seen as competitive to AT&T.

Earlier this year, Apple allowed VoIP application Skype into the App Store only after it agreed to limit its service to iPhone users on Wi-Fi connections -- not when the device was connected via 3G. The move meant that on-the-go users still have to pay AT&T for voice communications.

[cob:Special_Report]Critics also cried foul over another app flap involving SlingPlayer Mobile, which allows users to stream a TV signal to an iPhone from a television connected to a SlingBox.

AT&T, citing its terms of service, said streaming TV video isn't allowed because it strains the resources of the carrier's network. The result was that, like the Skype app, SlingPlayer Mobile only operates on Wi-Fi.

It's also not yet clear how Google may respond to Apple's position on Google Voice, although the company has shown a willingness to abide by Apple's stipulations when it comes to iPhone apps.

Last week, Google's Latitude application made its debut on the iPhone. The program, which enables a user to share their location, didn't arrive as a full-fledged app, however, similar to how it's available on other platforms.

Instead, Google said that Apple requested that it limit the application to being available only through a Web browser. The request aimed to avoid confusion with Google's Maps application for the iPhone, Google said.

Meanwhile, GV Voice developer Kovacs said he would be releasing GV Mobile v1.2 on Cydia -- one of the unsanctioned application stores that have sprung up in recent months to provide access to apps that haven't met Apple's approval.

However, installing such unauthorized app stores requires that a user "jailbreak" their iPhone, which enables it to run unapproved code -- a process upon which Apple has frowned, suggesting that it may damage the devices or run afoul of the law.