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Even Google Is Blocked With Apps for iPhone

Jenna Wortham|The New York Times
Wednesday, 29 Jul 2009 | 11:40 AM ET

Google might power the world’s most popular search engine, but its clout goes only so far. When it comes to getting one of its applications onto the iPhone, it seems Google has to wait in line for Apple’s approval like everyone else — and face the risk of rejection.

In recent weeks, Apple turned down two applications that Google had submitted for review in hopes that they would be added to the company’s App Store, highlighting the increasingly complex relationship between the two companies.

Google said in a blog post last week that Apple had rejected an application called Google Latitude that would have allowed users to broadcast their location and see where their friends were.

“We worked closely with Apple to bring Latitude to the iPhone in a way Apple thought would be best for iPhone users,” the company said. It added that Apple had asked it to build a mobile-friendly Web version of the service instead, to “avoid confusion” with the standard map application on the iPhone, which also uses Google map data.

On Tuesday, a Google spokeswoman, Sara Jew-Lim, said that several weeks ago Apple rejected an application that would bring Google Voice service to the iPhone. Ms. Lim declined to elaborate.

Google Voice provides users free or low-cost calling, free text messaging, call routing and a universal voice mailbox. There already are applications for Google Voice on BlackBerrys and on handsets that use Android, Google’s mobile operating system.

Jennifer Bowcock, a spokeswoman for Apple, declined to comment on the matter. The news of Apple’s rejection of Google Voice was first reported by the blog TechCrunch.

Apple also rescinded its earlier approval of several applications created by third-party developers that worked with Google Voice, citing concerns that they duplicated features that come with the iPhone.

Analysts and industry experts said that the Google Voice ban may have been prompted by growing concern from AT&T , the iPhone’s exclusive carrier in the United States, about the potential damage the service might do to its revenue.

“What it comes down to is AT&T’s turf,” said Gene Munster, a senior research analyst at the investment firm Piper Jaffray. “It shows that contractually, Apple has agreed to keep apps that would hurt AT&T’s business out of the App Store, regardless of who developed them.”

Michael Coe, a spokesman for AT&T, declined to comment.

Calls made by Google Voice users are carried over the regular cellphone network to a special number, and are then routed over the Internet to their destination. This means they would use up minutes on AT&T customers’ plans, unlike calls made with the iPhone application for Skype, the Internet calling service. But the Skype application works only over a Wi-Fi connection in the United States, and does not allow calls over AT&T’s data network.

AT&T may see Google Voice as a bigger threat than Skype, said Jeff Pulver, chairman of the 140 Character Conference, who has long been involved in the Internet calling business.

“I don’t think people will go to their homes and have Skype as the carrier of their choice,” Mr. Pulver said. “Google, tactical and strategic as they are, may have put the fear of God into AT&T.”

The rejections of apps by Apple could dim the halo that has encircled the iPhone since it first became a lucrative platform for outside developers. The lengthy and opaque approval process required to get anything into the App Store has long been a source of frustration for iPhone developers and users alike.

Sean Kovacs, a 25-year-old programmer in Tampa, Fla., created GV Mobile, one of the Google Voice applications that was removed from the App Store. He said he was creating versions for the Palm Pre and other iPhone competitors instead. “My days of developing for the iPhone are probably done,” he said.

For now, Mr. Kovacs has elected to make his iPhone application available through Cydia, a popular repository for thousands of unauthorized iPhone applications and modifications. “I’d rather just make it available for free, instead of just not having it available to anyone,” he said.

Of course, Google is not just another iPhone app developer. Eric E. Schmidt, its chief executive, sits on Apple’s board. But Google’s Android operating system, which has not yet been widely adopted by cellphone makers, could one day threaten the iPhone.

Apple and Google “are competitors, but they cooperate on certain projects,” said Shaw Wu, an analyst at Kaufman Brothers. The question, Mr. Wu said, is how long that good will can hold as the companies ramp up competition in many areas, including smartphones, Web browsers, photo editing tools and online media outlets.

Saul Hansell contributed reporting.

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