Users of Google Voice can now choose Google as a voicemail provider for existing mobile numbers, displacing mobile carrier voicemail systems in the process.
Google on Tuesday plans to enable a subset of Google Voice features, notably voicemail, when using an existing mobile number, a move that partially thwarts Apple's effort to keep Google Voice off the iPhone.
Google Voice provides a variety of calling services in conjunction with a new Google Voice number. The service is designed to receive calls to the user's Google Voice number and then ring all of the existing phone numbers supplied by the user to connect the incoming call.
It's an effective way to never miss a call. But Google's approach has proven to be a problem for users who don't want a new Google Voice number to worry about.
It has also proven to be a problem among those who want to make outgoing calls using their Google Voice number. That's because a mobile phone will identify itself with its carrier-supplied number rather than a Google Voice number. This isn't ideal because those called can become confused about which number to call to reach a Google Voice user.
Over the summer, Google released Google Voice apps for Android and Blackberry mobile phones to allow outbound calls using one's Google Voice number. These apps provide a consistent phone identity for inbound and outbound calls.
But Google's ambition to improve Google Voice on the iPhone has been blocked by Apple, which has refused to approve a Google Voice app for the iPhone.
"The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone's distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone's core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail," Apple explained in a statement posted on its Web site.
Apple's decision, a matter the FCC has been looking into, has left iPhone users unable to fully utilize Google Voice.
But with Tuesday's announcement that Google Voice users can use Google Voice voicemail instead of carrier-supplied voicemail, Google has effectively found a backdoor into Apple's iPhone fortress, through poorly defended mobile carrier network infrastructure.
Google Voice product manager Vincent Paquet says that Tuesday's announcement isn't directed at Apple. "It certainly wasn't the intent," he said. "This feature was available before Google Voice came out so it's not like we created this to bypass anything. What we've come to realize is that a subset of our users will not want to change numbers and we understand that."