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Why You Want Google Voice on Your iPhone

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After over a year in limbo, Apple (s aapl) has reportedly approved Google’s Voice (s goog) application for the iTunes App Store, indicating that the iPhone may finally see the popular software, says TechCrunch. Initial thoughts for the rejection last year were based on AT&T’s involvement, but Google Voice is available for AT&T (s t) devices on other platforms, such as those running on the BlackBerry (s rimm) and Android operating systems. It later became clear that Apple held up Google Voice since it replicates native features on the iPhone. Now that Apple has loosened developer restrictions for iOS devices, Google’s app could find its way to iOS devices once Google updates it to support multitasking for iOS 4.

If you’re not familiar with Google Voice, I highly recommend you take a closer look at the software. Essentially, it can be used to route incoming calls to multiple handsets, landlines or VoIP services. You can even schedule which of your phones are active at certain times, so it’s possible to have your personal phone ring after work hours and just keep the business phone active during the day. Google Voice can also act as your voicemail service, providing speech-to-text translation of messages, which you can receive via email. Even better are the free text messages that can be sent through Google Voice on a handset or in a web browser, and low-cost international calls. All in all, Google Voice is a masterful method to manage communications.

Indeed, I found the service so appealing that it became part of my decision to switch from an iPhone 3GS  to a Google Nexus One at the beginning of this year. A few others in my circle of peers used the same criteria and also left the iPhone behind, although there were other factors involved, such as Apple’s control over the ecosystem, coverage issues with AT&T and better Gmail integration in Android. But mainstream consumers aren’t likely to see Google Voice as a “killer app” like I have, so I doubt that Android users will be swayed back to an iPhone once Google Voice appears in the iTunes App Store.

Although it’s easy to think of the iPhone when talking about Google Voice, there’s a place for the software on the iPod touch and iPad devices as well. Google Voice currently isn’t a voice over IP service, so calls are handled by cellular networks. However, I’ve routed incoming cellular calls to my Skype number in the past, allowing me to receive calls on a non-cellular device. It’s not uncommon for me to reply to or send text messages on the Google Voice website from my iPad, so having such functionality in a handy app that runs in the background would be welcome.

Now that the Google Voice for iOS brouhaha appears to be closing down, all we need is for Google to add video calls to the service. I doubt Google would use Apple’s FaceTime method for such a feature, which is sure to start another ruckus on our handsets!

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39 Responses to “Why You Want Google Voice on Your iPhone”

  1. Jai Loken

    Is this Google Voice app completely free to install and use for texting and receiving voice mails converted into text as long as the calls aren’t international (I see that some fees apply for international calls)? I just want to use this app for texting and having voice mails converted into texts so I don’t get charges for using my minutes to call my voice mail during peak hours. Also, I could cancel the $14.99 fee I pay each month to T-Mobile for unlimited texting if my friends will text me on the google voice number.

  2. This service should allow elimination of a land line, potentially saving me $600/year. What I haven’t yet seen is an FXS/FXO device that connects between my computer and my existing home telephones that eliminates cell phone minutes from call originations and completions while at home.

  3. Most of your problems can be solved if you have vonage. You can route your calls to different numbers at the same time. It has very low cost international calling rates, much lower than google voice. there are ways to call from anywhere to an international number using your vonage line, there is even an app for that.

  4. I’m embarrassed! I’ve definitely missed something. I just don’t get Google Voice for the person who has only “one” phone, doesn’t use Skype excessively, and sends about a dozen or so texts a week. And the vmail – voice to text feature is great, but not reason enough to use the service.

    All this said, my friends swear by it. Do people have that many phones and use Skype so incessantly that it’s a must have service? Do we need to be “that” connected? I guess so, at least for the power-users and geek-arati; but I can’t imagine it gaining mass appeal.

    I just don’t get it. Feel free to slam me, maybe I’ll learn something new. :-)

    • Mark, don’t be embarrassed. I’m a big believer in using the right tool for the task and if you don’t have a need for a tool like Google Voice, there’s nothing wrong with that. :) FWIW, some folks have found that they don’t need to pay a carrier for a text messaging plan thanks to GV, which can save up to $20 a month. Just a thought on the economics aspect.

    • I use only one phone myself. The main reason I use GV is to get my cell bill way down.
      I was able to stop paying verizon $50+ a month, because I set up a phone line that I could pick up at my computer (you can now place calls using gmail), make most of my calls from that, and got a pay as you go plan from page plus (had to research, uses same network) to get my phone bill down to $20/ month. (there are cheaper carriers still, check out platinumtel, or virgin mobile’s beyond talk unlimited data 300 min for $25/mo)
      I am still able to use my phone as I normally would around town, but since I’m home or at work close to my computer most of the time, I can now use the cheapest option when placing/taking a call, and people only know its my ‘one’ number.

    • Duke Frisbee

      I’m with you Mark! I’m typically an early adopter, am blessed to have the income to indulge in most any gadget I want, married, house, kids, etc. and I have to really stretch to think about who out of all the personal and business people I know that would really care about this aside from the “cool” factor! Maybe an extreme minority of mostly younger, traveling, independent consulting types should care? BTW – I had a Grand Central number back in the day and could never figure out why I’d want to give out another number!

      To your point Kevin, I agree with your right tool for the job belief. Maybe consider my comments license to school me on what I’m missing! I just don’t see how 99% of the population would save time, money, be made more efficient, etc by this. I’m sure there’s some on-call 24hr/day IT consultant who would vigorously defend the need for variable forwarding, a unified number, blah, blah but how many people are like that?

    • Mark,

      With AT&T, an individual who uses more than 900 minutes can save themselves at least $10 while a family who uses more than 1400 minutes can save at least $20.

      How? Just add your google voice number to “A-List” and you can make unlimited calls through google voice to any number without using your bucket ‘o minutes.

      This mean an individual who uses, say, 1,200 minutes would not need to pay $69 a month for the unlimited plan and instead could drop down to the $59 900 minute plan and just use google voice exclusively for outgoing calls.

      Also, a family who uses 2,000 minutes would not need to pay $109 a month for the 2100 minute plan and instead could drop down to the $89 1400 minute plan and just use google voice exclusively for outgoing calls.

      The $59 900 minute individual plan and the $89 1400 minute family plan are the cheapest plans you can get that include A-List. If you choose a cheaper plan, you will lose A-List and google voice will once again use up your bucket ‘o minutes.

      Also, A-List only works for outgoing calls. When Google Voice routes incoming calls to your phone, AT&T can see that it is coming from another phone (from what I have heard).

      Add on the fact that you can dump your text messaging plan ($5 – $20 a month in savings) and google voice can save you some significant cash.

      Imagine a family with 5 lines and unlimited minutes, that’s $119 + 3 x $49 = $266. With google voice and the 1400 minute plan, it would cost them $89 + 3 x $9 = $116. That’s a savings of $150 a month!

      • Mark Evans


        Great explanation of where the value is in GV for folks like me. Based on your numbers the savings are compelling in a variety of ways. I’ll look into how to do this.

        All this said, though, I need to use a different number for outgoing calls, right?

      • Mark Evans


        Thanks for doing the math. I’m starting to learn a lot more from folks who are getting value out of GV beyond my friends who have multiple phones, etc…

        Thanks for taking the time to detail all this out for me.

  5. Before I deleted all my Google accounts, I was using Google Voice pretty well on my iPhone. I was placing calls with the web app, taking incoming calls on my AT&T line like a champ, and replying to SMS. The return of official native apps is a great step out of the stone age for Apple, and a better experience for users, but Google Voice has been pretty usable for the last year even without the native apps.

  6. “such as Apple’s control over the ecosystem”

    But you have no problem with the carrier’s control over their ecosystems? They control what apps you can install, uninstall, services you can use, what content you view/play, where you can get that content, OS updates and upgrades, even which search engine you’re forced to use.

    I think that Android seemed like a good idea in theory, but in practice it hasn’t quite become that utopia of openness that so many of you want to hang on to and still believe it is. Android isn’t an open user experience that gives you free will to do whatever you want, it has become a platform for handset makers and carriers to continue to push their services and warez onto their subscribers.

    This type of control is already beginning to appear from certain carriers. I’m sure in the future we’ll see a lot more of it and it’ll make Apple’s “walled-garden” will seem like paradise.

    • “But you have no problem with the carrier’s control over their ecosystems?”

      Sure I do. That’s why I paid $529 for an unlocked Nexus One in January and still use it daily. The carrier doesn’t control anything in my case. I pay for monthly service that it provides. I get Android updates OTA directly from Google, have a free Wi-Fi hotspot app, and have flashed dozens of custom ROMs on the device. Unfortunately, the Nexus One didn’t break carrier control in a widespread fashion. I wish it did, but for now, I’m making the best of the situation with total control over my handset.

      • Kevin. You avoided Michaels point. You have access to a Nexus One. Fine. But the point being is that the carriers are wresting back control over the smartphone by repeating the same tricks that everyone had to suffer from during the rise of the race-to-the-bottom pc era.

        The carriers and the manufacturers are going out of their way to remove the openness from the open system by remaking the open handset in their own image.

        This is great for Google and their activations but for end users it is nothing short of bait and switch. This cannot be good for people going forward.

    • Brian, it wasn’t that reason alone. As I said in the post, it was part of my decision. You’re absolutely right though, much of the service can be managed via the web. However, it enables far more productivity when it’s deeply integrated in the native functions of the phone and messaging apps IMO. When it gets approved – assuming it can offer that same deep integration on iPhone – I’d be curious if you agree or not.

  7. Yes, and have Google know every damn thing that goes thru the app, your phone calls, text messages–all for Google to capture for advertising purposes…no thanks, I’ll keep my privacy, what little I can…

    • Your naivete is showing. Google privacy is the flavor of the day. Did you forget about the Microsoft products you use or maybe you’re an Apple fanboi. Do a search for flash cookies, then tell me about privacy on the net.

    • Concerns about privacy are so close to being paranoid. Do you imagine a million of little elfs reading your messages to figure out whether you like andriod or hate it and them sending you adds like “buy android”/”kill android” respectfully? Oh please.

      • Gazoobee

        Actually if you take out the word “elfs” (actually “elves”), and replace it with “software routines,” that’s pretty much *exactly* what happens. Google reads your email and your IM’s and determines what adds to send you based on what they find. That’s exactly how it works. Look it up.

      • This exact thing happened to me a few weeks ago after a couple of email exchanges (gmail) with my girlfriend discussing getting a trailer hitch for one our vehicles. The next day I noticed 3 ads for trailer hitch companies showing up randomly on sites I visit on a regular basis. Don’t think they filter your mail? Think again.

  8. Just signed up for FaceTime via a new iPod Touch. It asked me to choose the email address I wanted to use as my handle. Since people may assign a lesser-used email address, there’s not a lot of compatible hardware out there and there doesn’t seem to be a look-up service in the app, it ain’t easy to find someone to talk with.

    Every iPhone user must be looking forward to video-enabled Google and Skype apps.

      • Other services have already built strong positions (as defined by Metcalfe’s Law).

        To be successful, FaceTime will have to offer unique and valuable new features, be much easier to use, be much cheaper or be simply the only available alternative.

        Not sure how much room there is for the kind of huge feature improvements to video chat that might let FaceTime stand out. You have picture. You have sound. Er…

        Fixing user discovery problems can only bring them to parity w/Skype, and maybe a little ahead of Google, for ease of use.

        As for price, I suppose Apple could try to pay us to use FaceTime, but this is unlikely. Perhaps they can figure out a way to have carriers charge for anything but FaceTime…

        So FaceTime’s best option seems to be exclusion of competitors. How well can that work for a communications service when you’re the high-end niche player in a market?

        Conclusion: It’s dead, Jim.

      • Carlos Chinchilla

        I think that what Facetime needs is to be opened — a open platform. And extend itself to cover all the available technologies that are out there, just like Facebook did with their apis and technology libraries (PHP, AS, PERL…).

        I forgot! This is Apple!…

        BTW, where is SkypeTime?

  9. “Google Voice currently isn’t a voice over IP service”

    Using Goolge Chat with Google Voice, it certainly looks and feels like a VOIP service.

    I’d like to be able to see an app like this integrate much more directly with the phone capabilities on the iPhone, but I doubt that will be allowed.

    • Mike, that’s definitely the future of GV across all platforms, but not yet for handsets. When that happens though, it will add a ton more value to Wi-Fi and 3G data devices like the iPad, iPod touch and other connected devices. I can’t wait!

      Good point on the integration – I wonder if Google will try to pull contact data from the iPhone, for example. Hmmm…..

      • androidncanada

        “Google Voice currently isn’t a voice over IP service, so calls are handled by cellular networks.” As an android user, I can testify that the Google Voice application is indeed VOIP. If you configure GV to call your cellular number then you will use your cellular minutes. I have configured Google Voice to specifically not use my cellular number and all my calls on Google Voice are using VOIP (Data). On Android devices, you can configure your outgoing calls to use GV or cellular.