Google Voice – My Impressions of the Product and the iPhone Fiasco

Posted by Kevin Hanson | Posted in Apple, Technology | Posted on 29-07-2009-05-2008

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IMG_0111I got my Google Voice invite a couple weeks ago. Since then, I’ve had some time to play with it. To make matters more interesting, there was a Google Mobile iPhone app released! To make things even more interesting, Apple yanked the app from the App Store (apparently at AT&T’s request). And to make things even more interesting, the developer re-released the app via Cydia (the application installer for jailbroken iPhones)! I’m happy to have GV Mobile on my jailbroken iPhone right now so read on for my thoughts about the Google Voice service as well as the experience on the iPhone.

Before digging into the iPhone application / fiasco and my thoughts on it, let me explain Google Voice a bit. Google Voice is a new service from Google that gives you a new phone number. When someone calls that phone number, it will ring all of your specified phone numbers. For example, when I receive a call on my Google Voice number now, my skype phone, cell phone, and office phone all ring. This one number fixes the problem of having to choose which phone number to call, when dialing others.

That’s really just the beginning, though. Google Voice also allows you to record custom greetings for a certain set of numbers. I can categorize all my coworkers to hear one message while my family members hear a different message. This is really neat, and it is extremely simple to set up. If this were all that Google Voice did, I would be quite impressed, but it gets better! You can set it up so that if a blocked number calls you, it asks them to state their name first before you receive the call. You can also set it up so that you receive an e-mail when you get a new voicemail. Heck, it even uses speech-to-text to transcribe the voicemail to text for you. I’ve found that its transcription is decent, but not great. If you dial your google voice number from your cell phone, Google will recognize this and you’ll be connected to your Google Voice inbox. Lastly, you can make cheap VOIP calls from your Google Voice number right from a computer. I’m sure there are other features I’m missing, but these are the ones that have stuck out the most to me over the past couple weeks.

The only thing left is iPhone integration. That’s where Sean Kovaks comes in. He developed a great Google Voice application, and he submitted it to the App Store. This item was very quickly yanked by Apple, apparently at the request of AT&T. That sucked. I can see why AT&T would want to pull the application. If I use Google Voice instead of AT&T voicemail, that’s one less thing that I depend on AT&T for. I’m fine with that, but I can see why they wouldn’t be. That being said, I’m not justifying them pulling the app. This really is a bunch of bullcrap. I’m sick of them limiting apps like Skype and Slingplayer. The amount of bad PR they’re getting about this likely outweighs the savings in revenue they’re getting by limiting data usage.

If it weren’t for AT&T, I would have no reason to jailbreak my iPhone. I jailbreak the phone in order to use Skype and Slingplayer over 3G. I also install PDANet for internet tethering. If AT&T would offer tethering (even at a premium price), and let me use my phone however I want, I would not have the need for jailbreaking. Unfortunately, AT&T just gave me one more reason to keep on jailbreaking… After the app was yanked from the app store, the developer made it available via Cydia for free to all jailbroken iPhones. I installed the app, and now i’m rocking google voice on the iPhone. It’s really great!

The GV Mobile application lets you dial phone numbers, use SMS, and check voicemail. For me, the only interesting part is the voicemail, and it works great. The voicemail UI looks just like the iPhone’s standard voicemail UI. I wish they would show the transcription of the voicemail, though. The dialer lets you dial a number using google’s service. So what actually happens is that you call a number, and then you receive a call from “Google Voice” and as soon as you answer that number, then you’re connected with the initial number you dial. I THINK this is to utilize google’s cheap voip rates to different countries, but I haven’t yet confirmed.

My apologies if this post is a bit long and unstructured, but here is the conclusion. Google Voice is awesome. It lets me unify all of my numbers, customize my voicemail, and read voicemail like email. I’m sure future enhancements will make it even more useful. AT&T / Apple are really disappointing me with their app rejections / pulldowns. I don’t know what the final solution to this problem is, but I hope it is reached in the near future. That being said, screw ‘em. As long as the iPhone Dev Team keeps on kicking, we can jailbreak our iPhones and do what we want with them anyways. GV Mobile is an excellent addition to my iPhone, and I’m very excited to continue my use of Google Voice on my iPhone.

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