Maybe time really does heal all wounds. The theory seems to at least ring true for Apple Inc. and its troubled past with Google Voice. The company today approved the first in what many expect to be a series of third-party apps for the popular service from Google Inc. Google Voice has faced a rough go at making its way onto the iPhone and other iOS devices like the iPad and iPod Touch. Meanwhile, BlackBerry and Android users have enjoyed a vastly superior Google Voice experience on their mobile devices for well over a year now.
The entire brouhaha between Apple, AT&T Mobility and Google over Google Voice came to a head last summer when Apple blocked the official Google Voice application from its App Store. Third-party apps, which had previously been approved and selling for a few dollars, were summarily taken down as well. Eventually, the Federal Communications Commission got involved and launched an inquiry into why the app was denied. AT&T, Google and Apple all side-stepped the issue (and responsibility) in their responses to the FCC, but Apple was at least clear in its logic. The company contended that Google Voice replicates many of the features that already exist on the iPhone. True, but such flattery in the form of imitation hasn’t stopped Apple from approving apps before. In the end, one thing seemed clear: only Apple will decide what makes its way on to its App Store and mobile platform, and it doesn’t owe anyone a complete explanation if it doesn’t want to offer one. By early fall 2009, the debate took on a new form as lawyers sparred in letters sent to the FCC and dragged the open Internet debate right into the middle of it. Whether it was a sign of acquiescence or not, Google countered by launching an HTML5 version of the service as a web site optimized for iOS. Anyone who uses that version of Google Voice knows why HTML5 still has a long way to go before it matches the experience of a native app. Following the FCC inquiry tverything was at a stalemate — with Apple in control — and things have stayed that way until only very recently. Barely a week ago, Apple threw everything open again when it eased a series of restrictions on developers, allowing third-party development tools to be leveraged for iOS app development and revoked its ban on third-party ad networks. It also, for the first time, published App Store Review Guidelines in an effort to give developers a more clear picture of its app review and approval process. Each of the shifts on Apple’s part were almost unprovoked, unless you count the gains that Google’s Android operating system has made against Apple’s devices in the past year. By all accounts, those moves not only opened a path for Flash to finally make its way on to the iPhone (in at least some form), it also prompted numerous publishers of previously denied apps to revive their efforts. On Monday, mobile app developer Sean Kovacs wrote that he had resubmitted a new version of GV Mobile (a previously banned app) for the App Store with a new sense of hope. And now, here at the end of the week, Apple has approved at least one third-party Google Voice app in the form of GV Connect (iTunes link). Last September, we predicted that Apple would eventually reverse its decision to block Google Voice as a mobile app, but it sure took longer than we thought. It would stand to reason now that Google’s official iOS app for Google Voice will also get revived and approved soon, along with a handful of others from third-party developers. After paying $3 for the GV Connect app and testing it for a little, it’s clear there are still some glaring omissions in this version. Push notifications still aren’t there and that’s a must for any diehard Google Voice user. Meanwhile, placing a call using GV Connect works great but it still requires an auto incoming call to be answered before that outgoing call is placed. Android and BlackBerry users will note that their Google Voice apps do this all in the background. Or perhaps they don’t even notice, which is exactly the point. GV Connect might be a better experience than Google’s HTML5 workaround, but everyday Google Voice users still want more.