Finally, the official Google Voice iPhone app hits the App Store

google voice iphone screenshotIt’s been a long haul for Google, but now iPhone owners can finally download an official Google Voice iPhone app – giving users access to even more Google Voice features than the current web app, though still not as many as Android users.

We reported in late September that Google was possibly working on the app, spurred on by Apple’s relaxed app development rules announced earlier that month.

Google had submitted a Google Voice app last year, but Apple rejected it. Apple later told the FCC that it was studying the app because it was concerned that it was duplicating the iPhone’s voice dialing functions. Google countered by telling the FCC that the app was rejected flat-out. Earlier this year, Google Voice finally found its way to the iPhone in the form of a HTML5 web application.

The HTML5 app was serviceable, but it couldn’t do things like send push notifications, access your iPhone contacts, or take advantage of the multitasking capabilities in the iPhone OS 4 update. The new app offers push notifications for new voicemail or text messages, as well a “direct access numbers” feature that lets users place calls faster than they could with the web app.

Of course, the app also offers standard features like the ability to send calls and text using your Google Voice number, and it lets you listen to voicemail and read voicemail transcription. In my brief testing, I found the app to feel much more polished than the web app. It offers some nice touches as well, like automatically highlighting transcribed voicemail text as it plays the message’s audio.

While it’s a significant upgrade for iPhone owners, the app still lags behind Google Voice’s ability to integrate into the core functionality of Android phones — like hooking directly into the phones dialer and native texting app. That will likely never happen on the iPhone, but at least we can be grateful to finally have a full-fledged Google Voice iPhone app.

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The expanding influence of apps and mobile

If mobile interfaces continue to shape desktops and laptops and the Mac App Store successfully pushes the app business beyond mobile, "Back to the Mac" may prove to be more than a quirky tease for an Apple event. Mobile, it would seem, is leading the parade now.

With this as a backdrop, I got in touch with "App Savvy" author Ken Yarmosh (@kenyarmosh) to get his take on the current state of the app landscape and its near-term future and influence. Our interview follows.

Is Apple now a mobile-first company?

Ken YarmoshKen Yarmosh: Apple explicitly positioned itself as a mobile company with the launch of the iPad. Look at their product lineup and what's evident is only a handful of items are actually not mobile.

For the foreseeable future, it's likely that smaller mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad will continue to influence the evolution of laptops, desktops, and the Mac operating system. The reason is that they are spurring new ideas and pushing Apple to re-imagine hardware and software in a space that has been much more stable and less revolutionary over the past five years.

Apple's focus on the iPhone, iPad, and iOS caused some unrest with its tried and true Mac development community. Even at the "Back to Mac" event, however, it was obvious how much their work on iOS and iOS devices is influencing their thinking. The new iLife suite has inspiration from iOS interface elements. Mac OS X 10.7 adopts iOS' folders. And obviously the Mac App Store is derived from what used to simply be called the "App Store" but more technically will become the iOS App Store. Similarly, the engineering behind the MacBook Air was in many ways powered by the advancements made in the creation of the iPad. There will be further collapsing across Mac and iOS over the next several years. In general, iOS will spur the innovation that's brought to the Mac.

How is app behavior different from web behavior?

KY: We'll see less distinctions over time, but in the current environment one of the biggest differences is that apps are driven by touch. Even though touch gestures are present in many mobile browsers, they still are not as advanced as the experience in native mobile applications. Consider, for example, trying to play games like Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds in a browser versus an app.

Touch represents one of the key paradigm shifts occurring in how we interact with computers and other devices. While it became prevalent with apps, it will eventually be present everywhere, sometimes as the primary interaction, other times as a complementary one.

Is the app gold rush already over?

KY: The mobile app market is a tale of haves and have nots. Those making money are making quite a bit. You can guess what the rest are doing. There's not really an in-between.

It's still a new frontier, however, and one that is constantly changing. Consider the launch of Windows Phone 7 or the onslaught of new tablet devices. With the growth potential of those markets alone, I think apps represent as good opportunity for pursuing any new business venture. "Opportunity," of course, is the key word.

Given the "have-have not" realities of the App Store, does the value of creating a first app lie in experience rather than revenue?

KY: The most successful developers typically didn't make it big on their first apps. So, pursuing one app and expecting early retirement to following is a dangerous expectation. That type of misperception is why so many become disillusioned.

The benefits of building an app are not exclusively monetary. Those who jump into the App Store with a hope for more than big dollars are often the ones that continue to invest into it over time. They also so happen to represent the ones who eventually do see a tangible financial return on their investments. Commitment and hard work pays off.

What's the biggest problem with the App Store?

KY: Discovery is often discussed in the inner circles. But for the overwhelming number of consumers, they don't need much more than Apple's lists of featured and top ranking apps to be happy.

I think that's representative of the biggest problem, which is really more about supply and demand. At some point, the number of apps available stops to matter to consumers. For example, it's doubtful that they will really care there are 300,000 versus 400,000 apps in the App Store catalog.

Apple likes to tout the number of apps they have but they're aware of this issue. They expanded the featured list a while back and recently added a "Game of the Week" in addition to the "App of the Week." It's a good possibility that they'll spin off games into its own app store down the line. The "Game of the Week" and Game Center are indications that Apple understands iOS is as much a gaming platform as anything else.

A more basic way to trim the App Store will be for Apple to enact policies about purging apps that become abandoned or inactive. They already have a policy aimed at name squatters, and purging could be a natural extension of that. I could also see the developer program price being used as a throttle.

What's your take on jailbreaking and alternative markets, like Cydia? Are those viable options for developers?

KY: I follow the jailbreak community closely. From what I can tell, there are a handful of jailbreak developers who are making livings by developing tweaks, utilities, and apps for Cydia.

It takes a special talent and personality type to engage in that ecosystem. Even for experienced iOS developers, it's not something I would recommend. These folks truly are hackers and what they are able to do is pretty amazing. Ultimately though, they're constantly fighting Apple. it's a risky proposition since jailbreaks can be broken even with iOS point releases (e.g., 4.0.1 to 4.0.2).


Social Networking More Popular Than Voice, SMS by 2015

facebook_iPhone.jpgSocial networking will be a more popular communication mechanism than either voice or SMS, according to 31 global mobile operators cited in a new report from Airwide Solutions. The report, commissioned by Airwide and performed by research agency mobileSQUARED, asked operators across Europe, North America and in the Asia-Pacific regions what they believed would be the most popular applications and the top forms of communication in 2015.


When examined individually, traditional forms of communication still appeared to be at the top of the list. The operators said that 87% would use messaging (SMS/MMS) and 81% would use voice. However, when all the social networking options were combined, they totaled 94%, thus becoming the new majority.

The operators said that "social networking" wouldn't just be the most heavily used service among applications, it would be the "most important form of communication," too.

Currently, social networking accounts for 50% of all mobile Internet traffic in the majority of developed markets, and it goes over 50% in a number of emerging markets. The traffic comes from smartphones in developed markets, but it's becoming popular in emerging markets as well, says mobileSQUARED.

Factors Leading to Social Networking's Increase

From Q4 2008 to Q4 2009, the time spent on social networking sites has increased from less than a minute per day to over 10 minutes. The increase is due to better network coverage and speed, falling data costs and the improved experiences now being delivered by mobile websites, the reports states.

Also tied to the increases are the rise of smartphones - Android devices are now selling over 200,000 per day worldwide and the iPhone 4 has sold 3 million devices in the top five global markets within 22 days (or 136,363 per day). According to Gartner, smartphone sales represented 19% of all mobile sales in Q2 2010. Also, Frost & Sullivan says that by 2015, 54% of all devices in the Asia-Pacific region will be smartphones.

With this growth in mind, the operators said that "social networking" type applications (77%) would be the most-used apps by 2015, followed by messaging (64%), email (58%) and voice (55%). Navigation/Maps, camera, video/TV player, Music player and banking rounded out the top 10.

More details on the operators' thoughts regarding messaging, innovation, customer loyalty, inhibitors to adoption, advertising and more can be found in the lengthy 15-page report, available for free download here.

Sources: GoMo News, Airwide



Path launches photo-sharing social network focused on quality connections, not quantity

Path screenshotPath, a photo-sharing startup by former Facebook executive Dave Morin that launched today, is one of those companies that carries with it a tremendous amount of hype — due both to its pedigree and its secrecy.

We’ve been speculating for some time on what Path, which is also co-founded by Shawn Fanning and Dustin Mierau of Napster fame, is actually about. Now we know: It’s a photo-sharing social network (the company calls it “The Personal Network”) limited to 50 of your closest friends and family.

You can upload photos from the company’s iPhone app and share them with your close connections without worrying as much about privacy as you would sharing via Facebook or Flickr. Users can also sign up via the web and view photos online.

Path says the service augments your existing social networks.

There’s certainly a difference between the type of content you’d share with your close friends and content you’d share with your hundreds of Facebook or Twitter followers. On the surface, Path resembles recent hit mobile photo-sharing services Instagram and Picplz. It definitely won’t replace any of your existing networks with its 50-person limit, but the company is hoping it finds success among people who want share their lives in a more private fashion.

In many ways, Path is a strange animal in this day and age of hyper-connected services. Photos you upload in Path stay in the network and can’t be sent to Twitter, Flickr, or other services. Your friends also can’t comment or “like” photos, and the only way you can add context around a photo is by adding tags for people, places, and things. You have to add friends individually to the service — either from your contacts or by inputting their email address — and every photo you upload can be shared with a smaller subset of people in your network. Path also offers a feedback feature called “See”, which lets you know when somebody is viewing your photos the moment it happens.

Path says it chose the 50-user limit based on the research of Oxford Professor of Evolutionary Psychology Robin Dunbar. His research suggests that the maximum number of social relationships we can sustain is around 150 and that the rough limit for personal networks is around 50 people. “These are the people we trust, whom we are building trust with, and whom we consider to be the most important and valued people in our lives,” the company wrote in its introductory blog post.

At the moment, I’m not quite sure what to make of Path. The pedigree involved makes it worth paying attention to, but feature-wise it doesn’t live up to the hype it’s built up (although, granted, that may be an impossible goal). It sounds great in theory, but will users see the need for a service dedicated to their “personal network”?

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Open health data: Spurring better decisions and new businesses

itriage-multiphones.jpgAs Network World reported this week, iPhone apps that could save your life have come to an App Store near you.

"A growing number of developers are tapping into a treasure trove of U.S. government healthcare data and coming up with innovative iPhone apps that help consumers make better medical decisions," wrote Carolyn Duffy Marsan. She was reporting on a trend that started at the National Institute of Medicine in May when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched its Community Health Data Initiative.

Network World covered Medwatcher, Asthmapolis, and iTriage -- the latter two also showed up here on Radar back in May. iTriage, a free app for iPhones, Android, Blackberry and other web-enabled devices, has enjoyed continued growth over the summer and fall, with nearly 1 million users to date, and a new iPad app.

Peter Hudson, one of the physicians who founded Healthagen, the company that created iTriage, spoke with me at this week's mHealth Summit. In the following video, Hudson discusses his app and the kinds of data that would help him and other mobile health entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

iTriage is free and genuinely useful. It also looks like a viable business, as more healthcare providers pay to add their data to its database. If that vision for open government at HHS continues to gain traction, the innovation released in the private sector could meet or exceed the billions of dollars unlocked by GPS and NOAA data. To see the first steps in that direction, look no further than the healthcare apps that have already gone online. When goes live later this year, entrepreneurs will have even more indicators to build into their applications.