G Voice and the Apps vs. Mobile Web Debate

Finally, after the FCC investigation and finger pointing between Google, AT&T and Apple after the rejection of Google’s Voice app for the iPhone, Google has created a “Web app” version of Google Voice. This is consistent with the direction that Google is generally taking on smartphones, as the company focuses less on “apps” and more on the mobile Web.

But between the “mobile Web” and true “apps,” there is the “rich Web app,” which offers almost all the functionality of an app but without the approval process or the required consumer download. 

Here’s what Apple publicly said last July about why it rejected Google Voice as an app:

Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it. The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail. Apple spent a lot of time and effort developing this distinct and innovative way to seamlessly deliver core functionality of the iPhone.

According to Apple, the Google Voice app did a kind of “end around” around Apple’s core calling function and so the company rejected it. But using Google Voice or Skype or Truphone is less about circumventing Apple than the carrier for most people, in this case AT&T.

Now the new HTML5 Google Voice the Web app can’t be blocked by Apple or AT&T. In addition, iPhone users can add it to their home screen so that it’s just as easily accessible as any app. The only thing that it doesn’t do is integrate with the phone’s contacts (but it does integrate with Google contacts). There’s also a version for the Palm Pre/Pixi.

From the Google Blog post earlier today: 

Today, we’re excited to introduce the Google Voice web app for the iPhone and Palm WebOS devices. This HTML5 application provides you with a fast and versatile mobile experience for Google Voice because it uses the latest advancements in web technologies. For example, AppCache lets you interact with web apps without a network connection and local databases allow you to store data locally on the device, so you don’t lose data even when you close the browser.

Here’s the customary demo video that goes with it:

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CNET offers a generally favorable review; I haven’t used it yet. 

Stepping back this new Google Voice Web app is symbollic of the different approaches of Google and Apple to the mobile market and user experience. I am now using a Nexus One, which has access to all the Android apps but isn’t really about apps. People may disagree, but Android is really about fast access to the mobile Web. Apps are a strategic necessity in the short term, Google believes, to compete with the iPhone. 

Over the long term Google envisions a mobile Internet that offers rich HTML5 “apps,” accessible from the browser and without a download like the mobile Web version of GMail or the new Google Voice.

Apple, while recognizing the value of the “mobile Web,” sees strategic importance in apps and views it as a competitive advantage vs. rivals including Google. Apple’s “app leadership” was mentioned at least two or three times on the earnings call yesterday by Apple executives. In addition, the company bought Quattro, according to Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer, because Apple “wanted to offer a seamless way for our developers to make more money on their apps, especially those providing free apps.” 

The company wants to cultivate, care for and feed well its developer ecosystem. The iPad coming out tomorrow will expand the apps marketplace for Apple and further reinforces its commiment to apps, even as it promises a potentially better mobile Internet browsing experience.