Google released the official Google Voice iPhone app this week. Saying that this is a long awaited release is an understatement. The app comes roughly 18 months after Apple pulled Google’s initial release from the App Store igniting great controversy. And while it was never clear if it was Apple or AT&T company policy behind the removal of the Google Voice App, it looks like iPhone users can finally put the kerfuffle behind them.
For the purpose of this post, lets assume you understand how Google Voice works. What I am really interested in at this time, is how the officially supported Google Voice App compares to other 3rd party apps such as GV Connect and GV Mobile +.
When Apple finally started to show signs of reversing the policies banning Google Voice type applications, apps like GV Connect and GV Mobile + quickly jumped in and filled the void before Google could get back in the game and devote resources to the project once again. And while Google engineers spooled up to the task, GV Connect and GV Mobile + developers did an admirable job of filling the need to the best of their abilities. But in my experience, there were key areas where their apps fell short.
One of the key promises of Google Voice for the mobile user was free unlimited SMS. The idea was that SMS messages would be sent to and from the Google Voice phone number and never touch the AT&T provided number on the iPhone. But with GV Connect and GV Mobile, I couldn’t get the SMS messages to come through reliably while still bypassing my AT&T phone number. In both cases, results were simply hit and miss. There was no support for notifications on the iPhone. If the app was not running and in front when the text came in, the app would not alert me. This was a critical failure and made SMS useless at the time.
But with the release of the official Google Voice app, I am glad to say the SMS messaging now works every bit as well as I would expect. The Google Voice app does not even need to be running in order for the phone to alert the user to the incoming SMS message. The same goes for incoming voice mail message. It all just works the way it should.
Another great feature of the app is the ability to make calls right from the built in dialer. Normally when making a call from Google Voice via the web page on a computer, the Google Voice service rings you at the phone you want to use to make the outgoing call and you must press 1 in order to connect the outgoing call. But the Google Voice app does away with the need to press 1 since, for obvious reasons, its unnecessary. The call is just switched over to the iPhone’s built-in phone app and the call is connected. Your normal voice minutes are used and the call is established without interruption. Keep in mind this is a normal cell phone call at this point, though the person you are contacting will see that the call has come from your Google Voice number rather than your cell phones native phone number. Your cell phones normal calling minutes will still apply to the call. It is not a VoIP call.
There are some parts of the app that make it more obvious that its still a 1.0 release. For example, both GV Connect and GV Mobile had much more robust preferences that allowed greater control of the Google Voice backend functionality. The ability to edit what numbers should ring and when, as well as greater control over other Google Voice calling preference— these are features GV Connect and GV Mobile have had for some time. But these are features easily added to the app in upcoming releases. The core functionality is already present and is well implemented.
With all this considered, this is the Google Voice app that I have been waiting for. It’s reliable, full featured, and holds great promise for the future. This is one area where the iPhone had been falling far behind Google’s Android based phones, and it’s a relief to see Apple finally allowing such a powerful application onto the iPhone platform.