Google Wave's Little Secret: It Already Works On The iPhone

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Google Wave, the search giant’s latest experiment in post-email communications, is hardly out the gate, with some of the first 100,000 private beta testers still waiting for their invites. (I just finally got mine today, two weeks after launch). But Google Wave already has a few secrets. The one that surprised me is that even though not that many people can use it yet, Google Wave already works on the iPhone.

There are two ways to get Google Wave to work on your iPhone. The first way is to simply go to wave.google.com in mobile Safari on your iPhone. It warns you that you are not using a browser supported during the preview, but if you click through, it works pretty well. The site has obviously been optimized for Webkit-based browsers like the one on the iPhone and Google’s own Android phones (I tried it on Android, and it works there as well). You can select different conversation “waves” (or threads) and contacts, or dive into a specific wave.

But here is where it gets interesting. In addition to the Web app via the mobile Safari browser, you can get rid of the Safari wrapper altogether. Just like with any Web page on the iPhone, you can save a bookmark on your Home screen, and it creates a little icon which launches mobile Safari to that page. When you save the Wave bookmark to your Home screen, however, something different happens. You go to Wave, but without the Safari wrapper which allows you to navigate to another page or search the Web. Instead, it looks more like a regular app and there is no way to navigate away from it. Everything else works the same as in the mobile browser version.

At least that is what it does for me and one of our readers, Rafael Vargas, who brought it to my attention. For others, like TechCrunch writer MG Siegler, the icon does in fact launch the Safari version. So this might be a bug, or maybe MG is just blessed. Either way, the Google Wave team is obviously putting effort into making Wave work in mobile browsers.

And if what I’m seeing is not a bug, it suggests a different approach to making mobile apps on the iPhone. They become customized versions of the mobile Website which don’t have to go through Apple’s tortuous app approval process. Given the tensions between the two companies following the rejection of some Google apps for the iPhone (Voice and Latitude), doing an end run around the App Store might not be a bad idea.

The screenshot above shows what Google Wave looks like when launched from the icon on the Home screen. Below is what it looks like from within Safari. See the gray bar at the top and bottom with navigation options? Update: Perhaps Google is using this feature for creating full-screen Web apps. Update 2: Google confirms that is indeed the case. When you bookmark Wave it launches in “app mode,” which is an existing option for developers on the iPhone.

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