Google Apps

Google Voice: Alive and well thanks to HTML5

This past July, Apple pulled apps related to Google Voice from their store. Recently, Google fired back with a Web-based version of Google Voice that can't be blocked. Game on.
At first glance, you may think this is an article about the struggle between Google and Apple/AT&T. Well, it is partially. But more importantly, it's about HTML5 and how Google used it to sidestep telecom bureaucracy. Google Voice history

Google Voice started out as a computer-based Web application, positioning itself to intercede for the telephone service providers. The appealing thing about Google Voice is all of the features being offered for free that telcos normally charge for:

  • Custom greetings: Vary voicemail greetings by caller
  • International calling: Low cost calls to the world
  • Notifications: Read voicemail messages via email or SMS
  • Free SMS: Send, receive and store text messages online
  • Block calls: Send unwanted callers straight to voicemail
  • Record calls: Record phone calls and store them online
  • Conference calls: Join several people into a single call
  • Screen callers: Hear who is calling before you pick up
  • One number: A single phone number that rings all your phones
For some reason, all the free features and interest by the military still did not garner much enthusiasm for Google Voice. Google Voice goes mobile I understand why, now. The features I mentioned earlier may seem impressive, but they are limited in usefulness because a computer and Internet connection are required. Google fixed that. They now port Google Voice directly to mobile phones. That means normal 3G or Wi-Fi networks turn into dumb pipes connecting the cell phone to Google's network. Upset telcos

This did not sit well with the telephone service providers. One telco consortium put it this way:

"Indeed, Telco 2.0 sees Google Voice as a direct threat to some aspects of conventional operator business models. By issuing its own telephone numbers, Google is starting down the path of dis-intermediating Telcos from their ownership of personal numbers and identities."

In the middle of all this, Apple removed Google Voice from their app store. Right then, people started crying conspiracy. I'll let others more in the know determine whether the telecom industry influenced Apple to do so or not. The fact remains, a useful integrated app was no longer available. Google fights back

As of January 2010, things changed and Google Voice returned. Here is the announcement by Google:

"Today we are launching a new Google Voice mobile Web app for iPhone OS 3.0 or newer and Palm Web OSs, harnessing the power of HTML5, a new web technology that makes it possible to run faster, richer web-based applications right in the browser."

Darn, it's a Web app? I already tried Google Voice in Safari. It wasn't that great. Still, somewhat curious I followed the setup instructions provided by this YouTube video. To my surprise, Google Voice looked and functioned like a normal iPhone app. HTML5

Right then, I became more interested in HTML5 than the controversy between Google and the telecom industry. That's because the new HTML5-based Google Voice is not your average Web application. It's powerful enough to mimic an installed application. The people at Wired must see something in HTML5 as well. They consider it one of the top 7 disruptions for the year:

"Web protocols aren't as sexy as the iPhone, but they could soon replace the app store as mobile web browsers improve to run Javascript and HTML5, allowing developers to create what they make as apps today as mobile web pages tomorrow. Rather than developing a different app for every type of phone, they'll be able to write the code once and have it run everywhere."

I am starting to understand where Google is headed. Brian X. Chen of Wired takes it further in his post, "Will the Mobile Web Kill Off the App Store:

"It's a tempting vision. Currently, when deciding whether to buy a Mac, PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, iPhone, or a Droid, you need to consider which applications you'll be able to run on each one. If programmers head in the direction of the web, then ideally you'll be able to gain access to any application regardless of the computer or smart phone you own."

That means HTML5 will influence more than mobile devices. It certainly will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

Final thoughts

I could not confirm it, but I was getting the impression that HTML5 could replace Flash. Can you experts out there confirm or deny that? I also find it interesting that this technology is a function of cloud computing, yet, it's not being advertised as such. Wonder why that is?

About

Information is my field...Writing is my passion...Coupling the two is my mission.

68 comments
kevsor1
kevsor1

I'm sure everyone will say it's old & dying, but I'm using a Windows Mobile device (HTC Touch Pro 2 - which I LOVE by the way :) Does (or will) Google voice work on WinMo devices? If it's a web-app, I would think it should, right?

Ocie3
Ocie3

features that you included in the article sound like a "killer app" to me! I am thinking about paying a visit to see whether I can use Google Voice to make telephone calls that I would otherwise not be able to afford to make. Florida has something like 16 local telephone companies! So, using a "land line", if I want to call someone in the Florida legislature while it is in session in Tallahassee, it would cost $0.35 per minute. Yet, I can buy a prepaid telephone long-distance card and make calls anywhere in the first 48 states of the US for $0.05 per minute. And the increase for calls to Alaska or Hawaii is not all that much. The only other way to avoid the accumulation of toll charges for a telephone call to Tallahassee would be to use a cell phone. Of course, I suppose that Google Voice is their implementation of VOIP. Whether and how that differs from Skype, which would not save me all that much money unless I made a lot more toll calls and long-distance calls than I ordinarily make, remains to be seen. You Tube does not list Firefox as among the browsers that currently support HTML5. If I choose to use Internet Explorer, then it would have to run the Google Chrome Frame, or I could just run Google Chrome (at least for using Google Voice).

david.hunt
david.hunt

I recommend reading the illuminating Blog by Jeremy Allaire, founder of Allaire Corporation and one of the contributors to Flash development. In short, its all about money and power, not technical niceties. Jeremy believes both will co-exist by dividing the subject matter into interactive apps (HTML5) and immersive audio / video (Flash). The emergence of ubiquitous mobile platforms (phones, PDAs, tablets etc.) throw a wild card into the pack, but again its direction is likely to be determined by ingrained and vested interests. http://techcrunch.com/2010/02/05/the-future-of-web-content-html5-flash-mobile-apps/

jbleahy
jbleahy

With Google voice, your cellphone still needs a data plan provided by the telco, text messaging, and they also would still charge for their monthly phone service. So exaclty WHAT would telcos be loosing?

vigremrajesh
vigremrajesh

how its going to be useful for mobile users those who use other than Iphone.

wirralmartialarts
wirralmartialarts

I really like the look of this, but only available in the US. Hurry up and get it out there!

simon
simon

As an old VoIP-hand, a genuine web client has appealed for years. Reality was always that accessing the sound hardware on a PC was problematic for browser-executed apps, and rightly so. Michael's article suggests this situation has changed. I would love to know more - perhaps someone can comment further on HTML5 in this context. (i.e. does it break through the traditional browser ringfence without user intervention ?) It is both interesting and worrying :-) ! In the meantime, I will check out Google Voice in more depth. Thanks Simon www.babbletalk.net

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

A Windows phone, but the Web site should work even if the Windows browser doesn't support HTML5.

sabotooth
sabotooth

GV just uses an access number to complete calls for you. You have to have a phone line and number. GV allows you to pick a GV number. Then you attach your home, work, and/or mobile numbers to your GV number. When you want to make a phone call, you dial a GV access number and Google completes the call using your GV number as the originating phone number. When others dial your GV number, Google forwards the call to all of your attached numbers. All of the GV apps just automate the dialling process, meaning you perceive that you are directly dialling the person you want to call.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Google Voice works fine in Firefox. HTML5 was required for the iPhone only. Apple and AT&T disallowed the integrated app. So, Google did a cool thing and created a Web app that Apple can not disallow. Creating the app is where HTML5 comes into play. Ocie, Google Voice has so many features, check it out.

BizMan
BizMan

Very Interesting Article ... Thanks for the link.

BizMan
BizMan

RE: >> In short, its all about money and power, not technical niceties That makes it all very muddy. HTML is still a "community" language, (as managed by W3C). Flash is a proprietary language, (as managed by Adobe). Seems like there is a natural dividing line there that will hopefully keep the balance in check. W3C, the "keeper" of the languages such as HTML, still appears to be motivated by tech interests. I still hold on to hope that the techies can keep any web language from being too influenced by any one business interest.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Thanks, David. I guess I am suspect of Flash as it has many weaknesses. Yet, who is to say that HTML5 will not as well.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Reduced minutes as the data plan will cover the Google connection. No SMS charges as well as not having to pay for all of the extra features.

pcassidy
pcassidy

It is true that HTML 5 is trying to EOL Flash as the primary vehicle for rich internet content. HTML 5 has the ability to deliver audio and video without the need for any plugins. It uses some advanced tech to access the PC hardware without breaking the sand boxing rules. Basically HTML 5 has the things people use flash for built right into the spec so content creators can deliver and consistent experience to people no matter what platform you are using to access that content. The Google Voice app rocks, I use it on my IPhone Daily. You can also see HTML 5 on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/html5 enjoy.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Both Blackberry and all the Android phones have an official application for Google Voice. It works quite well. Google did this in response to Apple not allowing Google Voice on the iPhone. I also feel it is a precursor to many more Web apps from Google.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I am just starting to realize the full potential of HTML5.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Is the key. Google will be releasing a business Google Voice and I suspect it to be a killer app.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Glad you posted it. I was not aware of this work around.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Google also allows you to use your existing number. The only thing is that allows less features.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

According to the article the reason that HMTL 5 may not replace flash is because there is in fighting about what video codec to use as the standard for HTML 5. Bill

Ocie3
Ocie3

"bundle" (of revenue!) from selling features such as Caller ID, Call Waiting, Three-Way Calling, etc. They constantly promote those features as an addition to their Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS), and offer DSL at a lower price "if you bundle". Of course, if you accept the "bundle' your total telephone bill will increase regardless of the reduction in price for DSL. The DSL upload and download speeds are not likely to be faster "if you bundle" unless you are willing to pay more than the "reduced" bundle rate for basic DSL. As the old saying goes, figures don't lie but liars figure.

brian
brian

Paying for many of those features was bogus anyway. Cell carriers have had this idea in their heads that no matter what the feature is or who made it, if people want it they'll figure out a way to make people pay for it. GPS is a great example. I doubt Sprint owns the GPS satellites, but if your phone has a GPS unit they'll disable that phone hardware unless you pay them $10 a month. Sprint didn't even make the GPS unit in the phone, Palm put that in there. Plus it probably took more effort to selectively disable voicemail features than to just give new developments to everyone. I think the lesson for the big telecoms should be, when you stand like a troll on the bridge in front of features and services that are extremely cheap to implement and provide, and demand huge charges relative to their worth, someone will figure out a way around you and provide the service for what it's actually worth and you'll be left out in the cold. So don't do that. It happened with long distance call charges, when people got cell phones.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

For the explanation and link. Getting confirmation helps.

Ajax4Hire
Ajax4Hire

Just installed Google Voice on 'Droid (Motorola Droid with Verizon service). Just when I think that Google can get no better and they have reached the end of their innovation, bam, Google Maps, Google Sky Map (so awesome), Google Translate and now Google Voice. wow. I think I will buy more GOOG.

darpoke
darpoke

human suffering by referencing the old saying. With respect though, given the importance of the internet in advancing education, human rights, communication and collaboration, the importance of a properly unified standard which is sure to govern the future usability of the internet is difficult to overestimate. Just look at the rows brewing up over DPI and privacy issues, or IP and fair usage. The internet underpins so much of today's developed society that a small problem with how it works rapidly becomes a small problem affecting everyone in a national or international community. If the OLPC initiative proves anything, it's that internet access is fast becoming a basic human right. Look at the Western view of China's domestic censoring of the internet, or the massive opposition to the proposed Digital Economy Bill here in the UK. The specific question of the video capabilities of HTML5, by contrast, are of course of far less importance. But I stand by my earlier point!

darpoke
darpoke

I get the impression though, that one of the purposes of HTML5 is to remove the need for plugins simply in order to include multimedia content, in the same way that no plugins are required in order to embed a GIF, JPEG or PNG in your page. The very problem with plugins is typified by Flash - a proprietary standard that quickly becomes de facto, the result of which is that Adobe have huge influence over the presentation of much of the internet. I'm not sure that either approach is a best-fit solution to the problem of how to include complex content... but it seems that the thinking is 'we've tried plugins - let's give unified standards a go'. Guess we have to suck it and see!

darpoke
darpoke

Might I suggest, on the subject of what to call an individual piece of malware, the term opplet? I just coined it. It's a portmanteau of 'opportunistic' and 'applet'. The sense being that malware is only possible to perpetrate as a result of a weakness in the code (or, on occasion, the hardware) of an OS. If the OS in question were properly written in the first place, and properly - promptly - patched when vulnerabilities came to light, and supported a true multiuser environment in order to preserve the correct privileges for processes, malware would be nowhere near as prevalent as it is today. People like to say that the only secure computer is one that's switched off*. This is an appeal to ridicule that completely ignores the fact that certain environments are far more secure, by default, than others, as well as the responsibility of an OS creator to ensure that their software is of sufficient quality. Botnets used for global spamming (the vast majority of electronic mail sent worldwide) and rented out for bruteforce cracking purposes are primarily possible due to the proliferation of poorly secured browsers, running in poorly secured OSes. The effects of one inefficient OS family are felt by all computer users everywhere. If Fords were sold today without brakes, bumpers or airbags, what's more likely? That a niche market would appear for companies that custom fit them? Or that Ford would go bust very, very quickly? *Which is only partly true, since a rootkit can reside in BIOS, preserved by the CMOS battery itself.

Ocie3
Ocie3

Only if people are dying [i]en masse[/i] because of the disagreement. If your biggest concern in life is whether HTML 5 should support one video codec or many, then you are among the most fortunate people on Earth. But just wait a while longer, and climate changes engendered by global warming will make "interesting times" for every single one of us still alive to see them!!

BizMan
BizMan

This issue has been dealt with in the past. That's the reason there are "plug ins" to browsers. Back in the day (ancient history), when Mosaic was being developed, there were no standards for multimedia. Rather than hold up the development of the code for the browser, these "open ended holes" in the code where left for "plug ins" to be named later. If a web language, such as HTML5, is done properly with documented application programming interfaces (APIs), any number of third-party developers can create code to extend an application (such as the case of video standards). On the other hand, Flash is owned by Adobe, and they can determine what they want, and who they play with. They will also do whatever they can to make their application look more attractive so they can maintain their piece of the action. Still seems to go back to the techies vs the biz guys, does't it?

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

If it will ever happen. The AV companies can't come to a consensus on what to call an individual piece of malware. Now that is confusing.

darpoke
darpoke

has the consumer - and the community - lost out because developers couldn't come to an agreement over consensus vs. choice? The argument for choice is that if you make the standard extensible then people can choose what video standards to adopt for themselves. There's an element of market force and freedom. The argument against of course is that this splinters the standard and content providers have to work to multiple formats. The argument for consensus is that a single, unified standard means that there's only one video format to implement. It becomes cheaper and easier to produce content of this single type and it behaves uniformly across platforms. Trouble with this is that a global development community has to agree on what's the right choice! We've all seen how divided opinion can be, especially amongst techies and especially on a matter of this importance. So the question becomes: what's more detrimental? To make the wrong choice, and be saddled with an inferior standard - or to make no choice at all, and have it taken away and supplanted by a proprietary standard, with all the licensing, interoperability and corporate whim issues that have dogged Flash and the like for so long? So many of the issues surrounding the web, such as standards and privacy, ultimately boil down to a philosophical dilemma. Is this the old Chinese curse about interesting times...?

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

These features only cost the telcos the effort to change the configuration. Yet, they charge for that one-time effort every month. I still am suspect of Google, but they seem to be above that. Edit: Grammar

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I suspect that is why the telcos are up in arms. Google Voice could almost be considered a disruptive technology. Yet, I do not understand why Skype is OK. I guess it might be because it is only ported over Wi-Fi

Mike Haun
Mike Haun

That is certainly a concern of mine. I've been on gmail for a Very long time, so they've accumulated quite a lot of data about me for sure, not including the additional apps that I've done with them from time to time! I'm really not sure what to do about it! (I can't seem to reply to the correct msg as it indicates I've hit max msgs??)

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

This is where I get very confused. Google has these amazing apps, yet I get concerned as each and every one allows them to know more about me. Curious, what are your thoughts?

Mike Haun
Mike Haun

I loaded it on my blackberry and it worked great! The biggest advantage while in the D.R. was that texting (both directions) was blocked on my Sprint blackberry, but Google Voice permitted me to text in and out all day long.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

How Google Voice and international works out, Mike. I have not had an opportunity to check that feature out. Thanks.

Mike Haun
Mike Haun

and it's only $.16(US) per day, but it takes the normal $1.99/min charge down to a whopping $1.69/min, while I'm here visiting in the Dominican Republic anyway. Now I'm going to load Google Voice on my Blackberry!

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Is tighter than the Web app and has additional features.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

This may sound obvious, but do you have the international calling feature? Or is that your point, where you are required to pay additional for that feature?

Ajax4Hire
Ajax4Hire

Paradigm shift (and I can only use the word paradigm once a week). One phone number for anywhere on the planet. It is about time. Cell phones broke the Long Distance monopoly and the location specific calling charges and restriction. I am still miffed that my high-tech phone turns into a paper weight when I cross the border into Mexico, or Europe, or Canada, or Aruba. Looking forward to the end of location specific calling restrictions.

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