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?