Apple OKs Google Voice for iPhone after year-long eval

App that Apple claims it never rejected finally sees light of day

Apple's year-long evaluation of Google Voice for the iPhone ended Tuesday when the free application appeared in the iTunes App Store.

Google Voice, a free Web-based service launched by the search giant in March 2009, lets U.S. users make inexpensive international calls, routs calls to a user's various phone numbers, and provides other advanced features, such as call forwarding and voice mail.

The new software for the iPhone lets owners of Apple's smartphone access their Google Voice accounts without having to open the browser and surf to the service's site.

Google Voice on the iPhone is notable not only for its features, but also for its tortured history.

Google first submitted the software to Apple for App Store approval in June 2009. According to Google, Apple subsequently rejected the program, claiming that it replaced some of the iPhone's "core mobile telephone functionality" and swapped a new interface for the iPhone's own in areas such as voice mail and text messaging.

But in a response to inquiries from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which launched a short-lived preliminary investigation into Apple's App Store practices, Apple denied that it had formally rebuffed Google Voice.

"Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it," Apple told the FCC in its August 2009 reply.

The FCC also demanded answers from AT&T, asking both Apple and its exclusive U.S. carrier what part, if any, the latter played in the bouncing of Google Voice. AT&T denied it had any say in Apple's App Store decisions.

At the beginning of the brouhaha, Apple also pulled several Google Voice-related applications from the App Store that had been approved and posted to the online mart, often with little of no explanation, according to one developer.

Kevin Duerr, CEO of Durham, N.C.-based Riverturn, took Apple to the woodshed over its refusal to explain why his VoiceCentral application was yanked from the App Store in late July 2009. VoiceCentral had been on the App Store since April of that year.

In September, Apple published review guidelines for App Store submissions, a first, as it also relaxed restrictions that had barred developers from using cross-platform compilers. Since then, several applications that rely on Google Voice have reappeared in the store.

Riverturn's VoiceCentral was not one of them. Instead, the company created and launched the HTML5-based VoiceCental Black Swan, which it billed as a "feature-rich weblication that enables you to view and manage your Google Voice data just like a native iPhone application." Black Swan comes in both a free and a paid version, the latter running $6 per month.

Google had done the same -- released an HTML5 Web app that ran inside the iPhone's browser -- for Voice Central in January 2010 as a way around the App Store block.

Google Voice for the iPhone can be downloaded from the App Store.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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