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Google Voice Sneaks Onto iPhones


Still no official iPhone app, but functions are available through the web browser.

Last July marked the beginning of the kerfuffle between Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG). Drunk with its own iTunes App Store tyranny, Apple began removing all Google Voice-enabled apps from the store -- the cited reason being "duplication of existing iPhone functions and features." Following that and the refusal to even give the Google Latitude app a review, Google CEO Eric Schmidt promptly left his position on Apple's board of directors the following week. (See Google CEO No Longer an Apple Insider.)

Google Voice members were outraged at both Apple and its purported cohort AT&T (T) for denying their customers such a useful app. Faithful users began searching for a workaround to access Google Voice's features, but short of jailbreaking the iPhone, there wasn't much in the way of functionality... until now.

Google has effectively circumvented both Apple and its fickle App Store approval process and allowed access to Google Voice's features through a dedicated website for unsupported mobile devices like the iPhone and Palm Pre (PALM). Android and BlackBerry (RIMM) users can continue to enjoy their native apps.

The website is modeled like a native app for unsupported smartphones, mimicking functions like logging missed calls and transcribing voicemails -- though the transcription process is still in its early stages and makes a mistake here and there. When converted into a web app, Google Voice takes advantage of HTML5 which replicates the app version almost exactly. Data caching and voice tags are supported along with notifications sent via SMS. Text messaging within the app is free, which will come in quite handy to iPhone users wishing to stick it to AT&T. The site also displays the Google Voice number rather than your mobile number in the recipient's caller ID.

One missing feature in the web app is the ability to access the iPhone contact list, but it's been replaced with a separate Google Voice contact list stored in your Google account -- making iPhone contact access superfluous.

Not only was developing a web app version of Google Voice the perfect way for the company to get back at Apple, it also demonstrates the limitless possibilities for developers to circumvent the App Store. HTML5 provides designers and visitors a seamless transition from phone to cloud. Remote updates, only one version, no size constraints. Along with YouTube, Google has given Adobe Flash (ADBE) a one-two punch with HTML5. (See Google, IAC Begin Adobe Flash's Death March.)

Rejected by Apple and frustrated with Flash? We have a site for that.

Last year, Google's VP of engineering Vic Gundotra, said "Google Voice will come to the iPhone soon -- one way or the other." The lesson here is: Never challenge a Google exec at his word.
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