The iPhone is starting to look a little bit more like a true Google-phone. Google today released an update to its Gmail for iOS application that allows users to follow links directly to the Chrome Web browser, the YouTube application, or Google Maps, allowing them to stay within Google’s ecosystem despite Apple’s attempts to route all links through its own applications.
Before today, iPhone users would be ferried between a native application — say, Gmail, for example — and the Safari Web browser even if they had the corresponding service’s native app installed. Directions would open in Maps.Google.com instead of the Google Maps app; videos would load on YouTube’s website instead of the native application; and other links would open in Safari, even if users preferred Chrome. This prevented Google’s (and many other developers’) applications from taking over the iPhone, requiring each action to pass through Apple’s own applications even if they were, well, shit.
Now, with Gmail and Google’s other “core” services operating in tandem, iPhone users might finally be able to avoid Safari, or Mail.app, or — and this is the big one — Apple’s Maps application. Between this and the introduction of (an admittedly stripped-down version of) Google Now on iOS, the iPhone is starting to look less like a slave to Apple’s will and more like a Google-phone that happens to have an Apple logo on its back.
Which isn’t to say that Google is the only one trying to take control of the iPhone. Twitter’s recently-upgraded Cards also allow users to jump directly into an application, forgoing the dreadful Web view. Facebook is doing something similar, and depending on who you ask, could be turning the iPhone into a Facebook-phone. Other, lesser-known applications, such as Launch Center Pro and Drafts, which has been described as “the place where all text starts on iPhone and iPad,” are inserting themselves into the iPhone experience as well.
But none have focused so much of their efforts on iOS — even though they are building a competing operating system — as Google, as I outlined last December:
As romantic as it may be to think that Google has suddenly upped its software efforts because of a change in the winds or an abandonment of its more “out there” efforts, it seems that the most likely motivation is also the most banal: Money. Google wants to make it, and shipping good software to iOS users is a good method of doing so.
Google’s success in this matter could be seen in a number of ways. It could be through upped revenues from mobile devices. It could be ever-increasing Android shipments and fewer iPhone sales. Or it could be as simple as realizing that all of Apple’s default applications have been relegated to a folder, with Google-built products taking their place in users’ Docks and home screens.
Today’s update brings Google that much closer to obviating Apple’s built-in apps and spreading throughout users’ iPhones, and that much easier to rely on Google, not Apple, for many of the things users do on their smartphones every day. That sounds like a Google-phone to me.