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Seams visible in Google Voice app for iPhone browser

January 26, 2010 | 11:38 am

Call who?  Which number is that?
It looks like Google got tired of waiting for Apple to approve or reject the Google Voice iPhone app it submitted for consideration last June, so the company has decided to sidestep Apple completely.

This morning, Google announced a Google Voice app that works via the iPhone's built-in Web browser, rather than through the phone's operating system as standard apps do.  The Web-based app can do everything Google Voice is supposed to, including make calls, send text messages, and review and listen to voice mails.

The standoff between Apple and Google over the non-approved (rejected?) Google Voice app was bitter enough to draw antitrust scrutiny from the FCC, but nothing concrete ever came of that inquiry, and the months ticked by with no Google Voice presence on the iPhone.

So Google built around the problem, using HTML5, a Web-page design language that allows Web publishers to more easily integrate sophisticated multimedia elements, such as audio and video.  Built from these elements, Google's Voice app looks nearly indistinguishable from a true iPhone app. 

Until you start using it.

Anyone used to making calls on a touch-tone keypad -- and that's everyone -- may be confused when, after typing in the number you'd like to call -- Google Voice pops up a box that asks if you'd like to call a different number than the one you just entered.  As it turns out, this is a dial-in number for the Google Voice service itself, but this is not obvious until you look it up.  Adding the number (916-538-3466 in my case) to your contacts doesn't help, either -- evidently the Web app can't access the iPhone's contact list to tell the user that this is the Google Voice dial-in number and not, say, the number to your boss' cellphone.

Texting with the app gave me similar problems -- when a friend wrote back, his number was displayed as a 406 area code, which was neither his Google Voice number nor his actual phone number.  Again, it's some kind of phone line Google employs for text messages. 

The fact that Google uses a bunch of intermediate numbers to channel Google Voice calls and texts around to users shouldn't be quite so obvious -- the whole point is to give users a system that mimics a normal phone without the caller needing to worry about extra steps. 

That said, it may be that those awkward extra steps were precisely what it took for Google to get around Apple's stonewall.

-- David Sarno