Why Apple axed the Google Voice iPhone app

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Apple isn't making many friends these days.

Its rejection this week of the Google Voice iPhone application – days after Google announced a similar app for Android and BlackBerry – sent industry observers into a speculative swirl. Why would Apple do such a thing? Is AT&T to blame? Does Apple hate Google?

First, the facts: Here's what a Google spokesperson told TechCrunch about the official app's failure to appear:

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We work hard to bring Google applications to a number of mobile platforms, including the iPhone. 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.

Also pulled: third-party applications that bring Google Voice functionality to the iPhone, citing features that duplicate Apple's base iPhone apps. Sean Kovacs, creator of GV Mobile, posted the following on his site on Monday:

Richard Chipman from Apple just called - he told me they’re removing GV Mobile from the App Store due to it duplicating features that the iPhone comes with (Dialer, SMS, etc). He didn’t actually specify which features, although I assume the whole app in general. He wouldn’t send a confirmation email either - too scared I would post it. :) I’ll see what I can do to get it back up there gang…

Mashable reports that other, similar apps are receiving the same treatment. What's the deal?

Established tech commentators and users alike have condemned the move, sending Apple, AT&T, and Google Voice all to the top-10 of Twitter's trending topics.

TechCrunch's Jason Kincaid is upset because the Google Voice app has the potential to really advance communication. "The thing that really bothers me about the move," he writes, "is that Apple is now actively stifling innovation. Google Voice is the kind of service that can actually have a positive impact on your life, and not in a frivolous, entertainment-related sense." He continues: "Apple can point to the App Store’s 50,000 applications all it wants, but how many of them could truly be called groundbreaking?"

PC World's David Coursey calls the denial "another example of how Apple's monopoly control over iPhone apps is bad for customers."

John Battelle shames Apple for breaking the rules of the Web. "When you build a platform that leverages the Internet, it strikes me you should act like a player in that space - IE, not acting like a monopolist, a bully, or in your own self interest at the expense of those who use your platform - like your customers and developers." He also wonders if it isn't time for Google's Eric Schmidt to step down from Apple's board.

As we know, this isn't the first time Apple has bowed to AT&T when the network felt threatened. Remember the Slingplayer app that Apple crippled because AT&T claimed its 3G network couldn't handle live video (and the ensuing firestorm when a live-video app from Major League Baseball was approved)?

What remains to be seen is whether the Google Voice app rejection is founded on AT&T's desire for profits, Apple's intent to roll out similar functionality in a coming update to its iPhone firmware, some other unforeseen reason, or a combination of the three. For now, with Apple and AT&T staying silent on the subject, speculation is all we have to go on.

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