Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Apple blocking Google Voice blocking webOS App

Oh what a tangled web we weave. I feel like I need to express how extremely disappointed in Google I am right now.

They were all independence and walled garden and network neutrality back in July of 2009 when their official Google Voice App was denied by Apple.

But how hypocritical can you be when they are now doing the same thing to 3rd party apps trying to access Google Voice from other mobile devices. They are not only not releasing an API like they have done with every other Google product out there, but they are implementing byzantine security to actually prevent 3rd party apps from accessing the same functionality that their Android native app is capable of or their new mobile site is able to access.

What does this mean to the non-technical? No matter how much authorization you provide a 3rd party app to access your Google Voice data, they don't want you to be able to dial out using the access number methodology like they have in Android and Google Voice Mobile. So you can give up your username and password to an app and then Google will still block that app from dialing out using the super easy access number that they allow their own apps to use.

But its their product they can do what they want, right? Sure, just don't go crying to everyone the next time some other vendor blocks your product from their platform or device. Would they be so willing to apply the same statement if say AT&T put a block of all users to the www.google.com domain and redirected to bing.com? I don't think so, and there really is no difference. If a user wants to use a 3rd party app to access their Google Voice account and take the same actions you can do on the web or in Android, then why block it?

Safety of users would be a good reason, but at that point if they were worried about it, it is too late, the user has already given the keys to the kingdom and with the extensive Google API's, they could modify your contacts, send email from your account, search your Google Documents, but what they absolutely cannot do? Dial a US no-cost phone number using the access numbers that Google has setup for Google Voice.

Really Google? Really?

How many security keys can you need? You get one when you login with the user's info, then when you go to Google Voice it creates another one, then if you want to dial out, you need yet another key. You protect the phone more than anything else in your offerings and it just doesn't add up.

This is the summation of my frustrations in trying to maintain gDial Pro for webOS mobile phones. I have spent more time on troubleshooting the Google interface piece than anything else on the phone. Why not put out an API? There is an API for Wave, and even the new Buzz, but nothing for Google Voice.

So it begs the question, why is there no API? Lack of resources, I doubt it, security of info, see above as there is a lot better info to access if you were trying to do something wrong.

Where does it leave us? I don't know, they must have some reason for it. Take a look at their Data Liberation Front. Then go to the Voice item, hmmmmm, not a lot going on there for data liberation.

If you profess freedom, then you have to be free yourself or it dilutes the message.

Friday, February 12, 2010

gDial and Google Voice v1.3.1

-Major change to fix up gDial after changes at Google Voice. Please read everything below:

Note this version and going forward will be taking a new tactic in order to provide as much stability as possible for changing Google API's all the time. Starting in 1.3.1, we will be moving more of the interface to a server side solution. So, gDial will communicate with our server (At Google's Appengine, so you can be assured of uptime) and that server will interact with Google Voice on your behalf. We are doing this so that future changes in the Google interface can be fixed on the server side and not require a new rollout of a new client and all of the time that takes. We can fix it on the server and immediately make that available to our users for better reliability.

Great, so what does this mean for privacy? In version 1.3.1 the only interaction with our server is in 2 places. We check your email address against a list of users on our server who are part of a beta program. The second is that we pass a token from gDial to our server which exchanges this token at Google for a Google Voice token that we pass back to gDial. gDial then deals directly with Google for all other operations. Your password is never transmitted to our servers

I wanted to be transparent about that so that everyone knows what is going on. The hosting is at Google's appengine so there has been no noticable speed difference in testing.

Because this takes server resources on an ongoing basis, we will have to charge for this ability. So as of 1.3.1, there will be a monthly fee required to use the following features: web dial and SMS. Manual dialing as well as viewing history will not require this subscription. We are going to try to make this work at $1/month billed by Paypal as we figured that would cover server costs and be inexpensive enough for almost anyone wanting that Google Voice functionality. You will get some extra features with this subscription as well that are almost done beta testing if Google would stop changing things on us 

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Being the typical geek that I am, I was tuned in with anticipation of the new tablet from Apple. I was hoping to see basically what they launched but with a longer battery time and multitasking.

Wow, this was the big surprise. They put in a super fast processor, big screen, and fancy apps, but no multitasking? So if I am in iWork and I get a new email, I can't go and respond to the email and go back to iWork?

Now most people will say, yes you close iWork, go into mail, respond, and then go back into iWork right where you left off. For a lot of cases that is fine, but say I am in my email and need to send a paragraph from the document I am working on in the email. And lets assume I didn't realize this until I went into the email and read the message from the sender.

Now what do I do? I have to leave mail, reopen iWork, copy the paragraph, close iWork, reopen mail, paste the message, send, then close mail and back to iWork.......

Not the most optimal situation by any means. Think about IMing a friend while browsing the web, same issue. I can't believe this was left out, but it is only running version 3.2 and not the big 4.0 release that most were expecting.

I am sure Apple will be fixing this in OS 4.0, and it just wasn't ready for the tablet announcement.

A disappointment for sure and all those early adopters may get a negative view of the device because of it. If Google could sneak out a Chrome OS device in a similar form factor, I would pick that probably 9 out of 10 times because even though it is limited to web apps, it would multitask and their web apps are sneaking up on Office and iWork in functionality. Much less everything else you can now do from the web. Plus using Google Docs, you could save files and pull them from other computers.

Battery Life
To replace my Kindle or more recently Nook, you have to have a longer battery time than up to 10 hours. The up to is killer there. I have a Macbook Pro and wife has a Macbook all promising up to 7 hours, but they have never come close to lasting that long in reality. I am not complaining on the laptop, because for what I am doing even the 4-5 hours is incredible. For a tablet placing itself as your book reader, not so much, My wife hates cords and this just adds another permanent cord someplace to keep this thing charging daily. If it was a laptop replacement, that would be fine, but it lacks too many things to even really replace my wife's somewhat basic usage of her laptop.

Will I get one?
Right now my thoughts are that I would hold off initially since they are only releasing the wifi version at first and then if the usage scenarios expand to something I would use, then I could see purchasing a version with the portable 3g because I wouldn't want to be limited by wifi only. Having said all that, I might still be one of those people buying it on day one as somehow I get caught up in that frenzy and hype :)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Pre Plus, 3D Games, Flash, oh my

Well as most people following Palm now know, we get 3D games immediately with Flash and some new webOS phones in the near future. These are the types of moves that Palm needs to be making in order to survive. Those were all great announcements, but they didn't directly impact our apps gDial Pro or Visual Voicemail.

The gift that we got from the CES announcements was that Palm was going to immediately allow developers to start distributing their apps using the web delivery method. For us, this was the biggest game changing announcement as it means we can update our apps and deliver those updates to our customers almost immediately. Anyone who has developed apps for webOS and published them in the App Catalog knows that from submit to publish can have a significant time delay.

We update our apps all the time with new features, bug fixes, polish, etc and we really wanted to be able to get each and every one of these updates out to our users with or without Preware. We weren't able to do this previously as we had to pick and choose which releases we would submit to Palm as it was likely that it would take 1-2 weeks for those updates to get reviewed and pushed out.

That has totally changed with the new web distribution model that Palm has enabled. We can keep on pushing select releases to the App Catalog for new users, but anyone who wants to get every update as soon as possible can now move over to our "Rapid Release" version which is web distribution only. It is the same app as in the catalog, but all updates get pushed as soon as they are tested right out to users.

One instance in the past where this would have been useful is when Google changed their Google Voice API and we fixed the bug in a couple of hours. It then took ~2 weeks for the App Catalog users to get this update due to the review process. If that were to happen now, we could have that fix up and live through web distribution just as fast as we could push it.

Kudos to Palm on implementing this as it puts them a bit closer to the realtime app distribution that Android provides for its developers. The only difference is that users must now switch over to a the Rapid Release version after having used the regular release vesion in the catalog which is added hassle for them.

And that brings me to the one area where I would like to see some improvement. Provide some mechanism so that we can do the realtime updates to the catalog apps. Even if the user gets prompted to enable the functionality and has it explained that the updates have not yet been reviewed by Palm. Basically use the App Catalog as just a sales tool that developers can pay to list in with some badge or something to indicate whether Palm has reviewed the app/update yet.

Otherwise the new distribution is great.

The other big announcement was the PDK which will allow for developers to write pieces of their apps in native code. Doesn't help us much, but my assumption would be that anyone using PDK is able to bypass some of the restrictions that are currently in place in the webOS API for accessing universal contacts, calendar, and other data. If the PDK allows this, then my hope is that they plan to also open this up in the webOS SDK. This is important to us to allow native universal search within gDial Pro of all contacts. We want our dialing to work just like the native phone. Also, it might be possible with the PDK to implement some of the more advanced features users have been clamoring for, like auto-answering the call in from Google Voice when you are using the web dial method of making outgoing calls.

All in all good announcements for the users and developers.

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