Black Swan brings Google Voice back to the iPhone without the App Store
Google Voice on the iPhone has been something of a sore subject for me. If you need a full-recap of the whole sordid iPhone/Google Voice story see this story from December or more of our coverage. I even started a little site devoted to waiting for Google Voice on the iPhone called IsGoogleVoiceAvailableForTheiPhone.com.
It has been 6 months and 19 days since Apple claimed it had not "rejected" Google Voice but was "studying" it. During the course of Apple's "study" the company moved to purge all existing Google Voice apps from the App Store.
There were three reactions to this from developers:
Google revamped the Mobile Google Voice page so that it looks a lot nicer on the iPhone.
GV Mobile released its app for free on Cydia for those who have jailbroken iPhones.
The folks behind Voice Central went a different route. They decided to make a web app instead. I've been using it in beta for the past few months, but as of today it has been released to the public as Black Swan.
The difference between the Mobile Google Voice site from Google and Black Swan is that Black Swan is stored locally on your iPhone, like Pie Guy from Neven Mrgan of Panic.com. Riverturn calls this a "weblication," which is a fairly awful name, but apparently they aren't the first ones to use it.
An obvious benefit is that Riverturn doesn't need to wait for Apple to approve any changes, or wait for Apple to finish "studying" Google Voice. Simply go to the website and download it to your iPhone.
It works really well, much better than I had initially expected it would. You can easily access voicemails to listen to them or read the transcripts. The "Call Details" page offers a button to call or SMS them back either from your iPhone or through Google Voice. There's a list of recent calls just like the regular iPhone app. Without question Black Swan is the best way to use Google Voice on your iPhone. If you pre-loaded this on an iPhone, I doubt most people would even realize that they aren't using a "regular" iPhone app. It even works in landscape mode.
The only bump in the road for me was that it does not use the contacts list on my iPhone, but instead uses the one from my Google account. I presume this is necessary because they can't access the Contacts list through a "weblication" and the good news is that you can setup the Address Book in OS X to sync with Google Contacts. The only ones who lose out are those who are using Google Apps, as a regular Gmail account is required for Google Voice.
There are two versions of the app available: a free, ad-supported version and a premium edition for $10/year payable either through Google Checkout or PayPal. Currently they are offering a discounted price of $6/year.
In addition to removing the ads, the Premium version also adds some features including support for Contact Photos, enabling/disabling "Do Not Disturb" and direct customer support. My general rule of thumb for things like this is to use the free version first to see if you actually end up wishing you had the premium features. Personally I found the ads were distracting enough that $6 seems like a bargain, especially knowing that Apple can't yank the rug out from under them again. There is a 7-day trial of the premium version; just stick a reminder in iCal for +6 days from now to remind you to evaluate if it's worth $6.
Who knows, maybe in a year's time Apple will have finished "studying" Google Voice. Ha ha! But seriously, I don't really expect that will ever happen. The good news is that as of today, most people will miss a native application a lot less.
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