It’s been exactly two months since Apple Inc. acquiesced and approved a third-party Google Voice app for the iPhone, but now there’s finally an official offering from Google Inc. The new Google Voice app, which made its debut on the App Store yesterday, is simpler and less noisy than the third-party apps that have been selling on the store since September. It also brings one key feature that presumably only Google can deliver: SMS notifications and dialing in the background. While Google has opened its API for the service it reportedly keeps some key features like those close to its chest, making it the sole provider of the key features that practically every user wants.
The entire brouhaha between Apple, AT&T Mobility and Google over Google Voice came to a head during the summer of 2009 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. The official Google Voice app for iOS devices is available on the App Store for free.