Apple may still officially be “pondering” whether it should approve Google’s Google Voice app for iPhone, but there’s finally good news: Google has released an entirely Web-based version of the service (at m.google.com/voice). It works on the iPhone as well as Palm’s Pre and Pixi handsets, and brings a large chunk of the functionality of the native Voice apps for Android and BlackBerry to your phone’s browser.
This new version, like mobile Gmail, is among the most app-like browser services I’ve ever seen, period, letting you dial from your Google contacts list or a keypad, read and listen to messages, send text messages, and configure the app right within mobile Safari. When you make calls using it, the person who answers sees your Google Voice number, not the “real” one associated with your phone: Google makes an outgoing call from the iPhone, then reroutes it over a line of its own.
There’s only so far that a Web-based telephony app can go. On Android and BlackBerry, Google Voice can insert itself as your default phone interface, and it gets access to the contacts stored on your phone. On the iPhone, it stays a secondary interface and can’t see your local contacts. (You can, however, use Google Sync to sync your phone’s contacts with your Google Account.) When you make an outgoing call, your iPhone confirms you want to do so and shows Google’s routing number rather than the one you’re really calling–kind of confusing. And while the interface for wrangling messages is a vast improvement on the rudimentary one in the old Web-based Google Voice, it still send you out of Safari and into QuickTime when you want to listen to a message.
In short, the new Web-based Google Voice is impressive–but it doesn’t eliminate the value that a true native Google Voice for iPhone might bring. I’m gloomily assuming that its arrive eliminates whatever remaining chance there was that Apple might approve the app, unless the FCC decides to weigh in further. But I’m also relieved that around 80% of the Google Voice experience–just to pick a number at random–has landed on my iPhone.
Here’s a video Google produced about the new version. A few screens after the jump.