Google Voice…I Can Hear You Now!

June 23, 2010

Mobile Phone, Technology

It’s been a few years since I wrote about Google Voice. For the uninitiated, Google Voice is the voice service previously known as Grand Central. It has been in beta (i.e., invitation only) status for almost three years. But as of yesterday, it has been opened up to any US resident. The announcement can be seen here.

What does this mean? It means that Google is finally playing for keeps.  They have not taken this step until now because they wanted to work with the various telco providers.  But Google’s success with Android has forced their hand.  Since every Android phone can benefit from the service, it was bundled with the phone itself.

But now it is unbundled.  But what is it?  Simply put, Google Voice is the one phone number that you will always have.  A Google Voice number can be associated with any number of additional phone numbers (e.g., home, office, mobile).  When someone calls this one number, the call can be forwarded to any (or all) of a list of pre-established phone numbers.  In short, it is a personal ACD/PBX.

OK, that sounds more dramatic than it actually is.  But this is the domain name for your phone.  For web services, you can have a domain name point to any specific IP address (or computer host) that you want.  So when people reference that name, it will go to the “right” physical IP address.   Basically, Google Voice can be the “DNS” for your voice call infrastructure.

And it does far more than routing.  It provides a comprehensive voice mail system.  You can store messages.  And you can hear the messages on your phones – or on your computer.  And you can forward these calls to contacts in your email and IM address book.

But wait!  There’s more.  Google Voice will also transcribe your calls into text.  For me, this is one of the most exciting things that is now available.  Speech-to-text is now mature enough that it can be used in routine communications.  This is a tremendous boon to the hearing-impaired.  And it is a boon to anyone that can skim written words faster than someone can speak them.   For example, if you get a call from me, you can see the words and skip to the end.  Yes, you’ll miss all the colorful illustrations and historical background for your simple request.  But you can get to the point faster.  I am sure that there are dozens of people (and examples) that come to your mind.  But the important point is that communications will become faster.  And it will become easier to separate the wheat from the chaff.

And as part of the roll-out, options for calling “off-network” phone numbers will emerge.  Like Skype, you can use this kind of technology to speak to your grandmother who only uses the public switched telephone network (PSTN).  So Google may even be able to turn a modest prophet for these kinds of calls.  [Note: Google has to be careful lest they be accused of trying to strangle competitors like Skype.]

So let’s try and summarize all of this.  Is Google Voice something that you want?  Absolutely.  Should you pay for it?  That would depend upon your needs.  I know that I already pay for a home phone that is now completely obsolete.  If Google supports local number portability, I will immediately abandon my local service and convert everything to Google Voice.  Indeed, the only reason I keep the old number is that some people only know that legacy number.  Once I can transport that number, I’ll cancel the local phone bundle I have with Time Warner Cable.

But would I pay for it now?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  I’ll have to live on the service for 30-60 days before I answer whether I would pay for it.  But right now, it is free of charge.  How can Google do this?  Because they plan to monetize advertising around the service.  And they may even charge if you want multiple or commercial-grade services.  But for now, it is free.  And it is worth every penny that someone else is paying.

-Roo

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2 Comments on “Google Voice…I Can Hear You Now!”

  1. Lorin Olsen Says:

    There is a very good thread about local number portability over at http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/voice/thread?tid=0b1758212a9e03ad&hl=en. In that thread, there is a great quote about Google Voice (GV): “GV is a call management service, not a phone carrier. Even with a GV number, you will still need a phone carrier to actually make and receive calls.”

    Reply

  2. Zeal Says:

    Articles like this really grease the shafts of kondwlege.

    Reply

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