Google Voice for iPhone finally released--as a web app

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The controversial Google Voice application is finally available to iPhone users, although not via App Store download--instead, Google is releasing the service as a web application, effectively circumventing Apple's review process (a move virtually guaranteed to escalate the ongoing rivalry between the two digital giants). Unlike so-called native iPhone applications available for direct download from Apple's App Store, the new Google Voice--an Internet-based service offering users free domestic calling and inexpensive long-distance calls alongside related voice and messaging tools--can only be accessed through the smartphone's browser. According to Google, the Google Voice web app is more interactive than the previous mobile incarnation of the service, enabling consumers to listen to voicemail directly from within the browser and to dial phone numbers through an interactive on-screen keypad. The new version is optimized for iPhone 3.0 and higher as well as Palm webOS smartphones.

In August 2009, Apple found itself the target of a Federal Communications Commission inquiry after rejecting Google Voice and removing a pair of third-party Google Voice applications from the App Store. Later in the month, Apple told the FCC it had not officially rejected Google Voice and "continues to study it." According to Apple, Google Voice and the related third-party apps were rejected or not included in the App Store because they interfere with the iPhone's "distinctive user experience"--Apple contended that Google Voice "appears to [replace] the iPhone's core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail." Added Apple, "Google is of course free to provide Google Voice on the iPhone as a web application through Apple's Safari browser, just as they do for desktop PCs, or to provide its ‘Google-branded' user experience on other phones, including Android-based phones, and let consumers make their choices."

Google senior product manager Vincent Paquet tells CNet that the company is still waiting for Apple to make an official decision on the original Google Voice application. "We haven't had any updates regarding our native app for the iPhone, unfortunately," he said, stating that the web app will offer essentially the same user experience as the proposed native app, with only a few UI differences. Pacquet declined to comment on whether Google will still continue to pursue App Store approval for the native version.

For more on the Google Voice web app:
- read this CNet article