Google Voice, the rejected iPhone app that grabbed the attention of Washington lawmakers and sparked questions about Apple's process for approving apps, becomes available on the iPhone this morning - only you won't find it in any official app store.
Google is releasing a version of the service that's enhanced for the mobile Web browser on the iPhone, as well as Palm WebOS devices. What that means is that, by typing m.google.com/voice into the browser on those devices, users will be greeted with a Web page that looks, feels and acts a lot like a native app might - had it been approved.
Google Voice, of course, is the online service that provides users with a virtual phone number that can be programmed to ring any landline or mobile phone. This new Web app integrates that service into the mobile experience, allowing users to place and receive calls - as well as SMS text messages on mobile phones - through Google Voice instead of the phone number assigned to the device.
(Obviously, the integration with devices running Google's Android OS is seamless and connects nicely with other Google services on those devices.
Google Voice initiates a call via the data network but uses the voice service to complete it. It also brings voicemail service directly to Google Voice, including web-based playback of the audio messages, as well as text transcriptions of them.
The he said-she said over the Apple's rejection of the app is unclear. Google said it was rejected but Apple said it was still reviewing it over concerns about it bypassing core features of the iPhone - notably visual voicemail. With this move, the point is moot. Google can now launch the "app" and even push updates by simply enhancing the mobile Web app.
The service is pretty good - and I've been using my GV number as the cell phone number I've given to friends and family. The biggest drawback: the SMS feature is still a bit clunky and there's no support for MMS messaging (and it doesn't sound like support is coming anytime soon.)
Google offers a Google Voice app for the Blackberry but there's no update for it at this time. Blackberry devices don't support the enhanced HTML5 web technology that this iPhone/WebOS app uses, Google said.
The service is free but doesn't require the Google Voice service, which remains an invitation-only service. It's only available in the United States.