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Google Finds Infinite SMS App Too Costly, Blocks Service

It was too good to last. Google said it will no longer bear the costs of an app that lets users send free SMS, and has blocked the service.

Google

"We need ice cream!" Google blogged when it launched the service. "This is why we built a way to chat with your friends even when they're away from their computers."

The third-party app, Infinite SMS, was created by Inner Fence, and enabled cell phone users to send free SMS text messages from Gmail. Google Labs introduced the experimental service in February.

Inner Fence told users on its Web site that it got the news from Google via an e-mail. The company said that for the time being, Infinite SMS will continue to work, but when the block goes into effect, users will get errors when they try to send a text message.

But Inner Fence said that Google's free SMS feature isn't entirely gone.

"They've only blocked non-Google apps like Infinite SMS," the company said on its site. "You can still send free text messages through the Gmail Web interface (but it doesn't seem like it works in Mobile Safari)," the company said on its site.

Inner Fence posted Google's official statement about the disruption, which said that it had been carrying the cost of the text messages (the app itself costs 99 cents to download).

The company also said that Google "has claimed no grievance with Infinite SMS other than its success. Their given reason for the block isn't abuse or wrongdoing; it's that we brought too many users (and thus too much cost) to an experimental service. We never could have guessed that the two of us [the developers] would write an app too big for Google."

In a statement, Google noted that while it is supportive of third-party apps, it was bearing the brunt of text message costs.

"While Google is supportive of third-party apps, we've decided we can't support this particular usage of our system at this time," Google said. "SMS chat is still just an experiment in the early testing stages in Gmail Labs. We're blocking all external XMPP clients from sending SMS; we're not singling out Inner Fence."

Inner Fence said it was caught completely off guard by Google's change of heart.

"Our first warning was an unexpected call from Google on Monday, 9 March, 2009, indicating that the service might be blocked as soon as the very next day," Inner Fence said.

The company said that it "immediately removed Infinite SMS from sale, since we could not in good conscience continue to sell a product whose lifetime was so likely to be cut short."

So far it remains unclear if Google will play ball with the developers, said Derek Del Conte and Ryan Johnson, who started Inner Fence.

"We asked them to reconsider or at least give us more time to change our program or migrate our users," the company said. "We scheduled a call for the next morning to hear Google's final time line."

Inner Fence suggested that users visit the Text Messaging Google Group and express their thoughts on the matter.

Understandably, users were upset.

"Wow, Google, this is way lame," wrote one poster. "I don't believe this. This makes me SO mad. You should really launch an alternative app or something. Plus, you are a way big company -- how could it be costing you that much compared to how much money you already have?"

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