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Is Google Voice as a Web App an Acceptable Alternative?

Google Voice Icon

When it came out that Google Voice had been refused entry into the hallowed halls of Apple’s (s aapl) App store, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. While I don’t have a horse in this race, or was driven to riot, I’ll admit to a certain amount of supplying villagers with pitchforks and torches.

The New York Times’ David Pogue is reporting that Google (s goog) is planning on releasing Google Voice as an iPhone-optimized web app.

“Already, Google says it is readying a replacement for the Google Voice app that will offer exactly the same features as the rejected app—except that it will take the form of a specialized, iPhone-shaped Web page. For all intents and purposes, it will behave exactly the same as the app would have; you can even install it as an icon on your Home screen.”

Google’s Latitude App came back to life as a web app after being killed off at birth by the App Store.

“We worked closely with Apple to bring Latitude to the iPhone in a way Apple thought would be best for iPhone users. After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple requested we release Latitude as a web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone, which uses Google to serve maps tiles.”

OK, that one’s actually funny. What Apple is saying is: We think your app is going to confuse people with this other app that uses your data, too.

When Apple first announced the iPhone and tried to sell us on its utopia of web apps being far superior to a native app, I wasn’t impressed. Sure, my iPhone has a near-constant Internet connection — except for those times I can’t coax a signal to save my life. I’m still not sold on them, but apps like Google Voice might be making me come around a little.

I use Google Reader on my iPhone, and its iPhone page is, for all intents and purposes, a web app. Granted, it’s useless without an Internet connection, but since its goal is to read RSS feeds, I’m not dismayed it’s not native — unless, of course I want to download them for reading on a plane.

An app like Google Voice, which, again, relies on a connection of some sort, could do very well as a web app. A potential deal breaker could be the lack of push notifications for new messages. However, I could see Google getting an app that’s just a notifier for Google Voice through the approval process. It’s not a big stretch to see an app that displays a badge for a message a link that opens the web app.

While I don’t think a web app is an alternative for a lot of the rejected apps — I’d hate to have an e-book reader as a web app — apps that rely on a network connection I don’t have a big issue with it. On the other hand, as in an app like Latitude, it’d be nice to have the location pushed up to Google automatically without needing to open the web app.

How about you? Where do you find web apps a suitable workaround for the App Store?

20 Responses to “Is Google Voice as a Web App an Acceptable Alternative?”

  1. Hi guys, I could not agree more. AT&T blocks most everything. I paid for many different apps, mostly MMS and tethering related ones, but AT&T blocks everything.

    Just to share some info, the only one that actually worked is the I can send and receive picture MMS messages and also use my iphone’s Internet on my laptop.

  2. techwarrior

    RS, SMS alerts already exist in GV for inbound SMS. I am suggesting adding Email and IM as options for notifying when VVM or SMS come in.

    There are email solutions that would push a notice, and yes it would be multi step, but it is an option. An IM notice (IM+ sends Push when I get GTalk IM for example and keeps me signed in to all services for up to 3 days) sends me a popup and alert, so I simply launch the webapp and send SMS in return.

    Bottom line, I would probably never use GV for a 100% SMS replacement, there are other good choices. But instant notification of VVM could be useful and could leverage things already available by simply adding IM and email notification options to GV.

    • IM notifications would probably be a very good alternative. Google would simply have to release their own IM client for googletalk, so that they would not be reliant on third party apps. This is a very good idea. Even without their own client, IM+ and BeeJive would make this a compelling option, but google might not be ok with requiring paid apps to take advantage. The free apps are ok, but they don’t provide the same benefits as the paid apps. (i.e. parlingo only keeps you logged into your accts for 30 minutes).

      Email notifications just would not be as effective. Unless you use an Exchange or MobileMe acct, you can’t get Push email, so your email notifications of new VVM or SMS might be 30 minutes late.

      If google provides a way to get instant notification of new SMS and VVM, then I don’t care if the GV app itself is a web app or native. I would immediately drop my SMS and VVM options (I can drop VVM with my carrier) and reduce my monthly bill by about 20-25%….well, I would need to wait for GV to support Canadian numbers, but that will come.

  3. techwarrior

    Why is a push app required (it will likely be rejected anyway)? If GV added an option for a trigger via email, IM or SMS for new SMS messages, then push notifications could be sent to the phone using email or IM push. GMail push even from Google would be hard for Apple to deny given email itself is not a threat to Apple or ATT.

    Sure, no popup alert on email, but at least a badge and audible alert would let me know an email arrived, I then open the email to see an SMS or VVM arrived, and the email contains a link to the GV webapp.

    • An email alert would be almost as useful. But, it would then be a multi-step process. You get an email, open the, browse to that acct and then inbox of that acct, open the email, click the embedded link and off to GV web app. A Push system means you get the notification, open the app and hit the button to open the WebApp. Much more streamlined.

      An SMS alert of a new SMS or VVM would defeat the idea of replacing your paid SMS service with a free one.

      Push just adds the convenience factor that would make paid options like SMS and VVM irrelevant.

    • Also, there is a reason why the iPhone does not support push from GMail. You can get the functionality through third party apps, but the itself only supports Push from and Exchange accts. With the 3rd party apps, you get the notification and then need to open to pull the message down. Not convenient. So, Apple has already shown they don’t want to support Push for gmail.

      As well, GV already offers support for forwarding SMS that you receive to your phone, through SMS, but you will be billed (if you don’t have free incoming). Then, you would have to open the GV Web App to send from your GV acct. Again, too many steps. A native app with Push would show you your SMS without having to have an SMS plan and you could reply for free as well.

  4. The only real benefit of native app for GV over a web app, is as you say, to receive notifications of new messages. This would impact SMS but would also be a limitation for new VVM messages. These two areas are why I think Apple pulled the plug on the native app. With a native app that can notify you as soon as you get a new VVM or SMS and would then allow you to browse, read, listen to or reply to these messages, would impact Apple directly in terms of revenue.

    Some, but not all carriers of the iPhone allow VVM to be an optional add-on to a customers acct. Apple received a sub fee for every subscriber, as well as the carrier having to buy the VVM servers from Apple. A native GV app would mean that customers would have no reason at all to continue subscribing to Apple’s VVM through their carrier. A native GV app would be a complete replacement for the iPhones built in VVM browser and player. When Apple says the GV duplicated existing functionality, this is the functionality they were referring to. Many other apps exist that duplicate the other ‘features’ of the, but only GV would offer a free alternative to the whole shebang, most importantly, the features that Apple has been able to monetize. I realize the calls themselves would still go through, but that is only relevant to AT&T, as it means they have no vested interest in blocking the calling features, as things like calling cards and alternative LD providers can already be used. The feature that would impact AT&T directly would be the SMS. Again, this is only a ‘threat’ to AT&T because of Push notifications.

    So, I like the idea of a native app that only receives notifications and opens the Webapp. But, I think Apple will again block this app. It is Push that has made any GV integration a threat to both Apple and AT&T revenue streams. And so, any native app the enables Push for GV, whether GV itself is accessed through the native app or webapp, makes the native app itself the threat. A webapp is good enough for me, as long as a companion native app for Push Notifications is provided, but I don’t see this happening. It will be webapp only, which means what makes a GV most useful, VVM and SMS, aside from the free/cheap calling, totally useless.

  5. Hi Ben,

    Thanks for the thoughtful and temperate piece. It’s very helpful, and the bit about possibly having an approved app that’s just a notifier is brilliant.

    How much would Google Gears affect this? I realize it’s not going to solve the notification issue, but how about other concerns?

    • simonethevenot

      Actually, I think I read that Apple had asked Google to do GV as a web app in the first place. In any event, Apple was well aware of the web app option.

    • Gee, the reason wouldn’t be to stiffle competition? Funny how Apple was plenty happy to work with Google on apps until Android came along. Now Google is an Apple competitor. I assume Apple does not want to do anything that helps Google improve it’s position within the phone market. As Jilted said, why else could apple view google voice as something bad for iPhone?

  6. I would use a web app, if the functionality warrants it. Similarly to the old adage “The best camera is the camera you carry with you”, the same is true here as well. Better get the functionality than none at all

  7. Sounds kind of like a Skype thing that apple and AT&T are blocking for business reasons. I use google everything for business and voice is great but slow to use on the iPhone. I was really waiting for an app to speed it up. Not letting it to because people willget confused is saying iPhone users are too stupid to use the phone is insulting. Maybe I should get a google phone at least they think I’m smart enough to us apps.