The Today Show featured Google Voice (formerly Grand Central), a service that may well become the preferred way to get and make phone calls.
What is Google Voice?
Google Voice provides you with a local number that you can associate with all your other numbers, home, work, personal cell phone, work cell phone, VoIP line, etc. You then provide this one number to your contacts and they can reach you where ever you are. Google does this by ringing all your numbers simultaneously then patching the call through to the line that picks up. It’s even smart enough to know when you’re at work, and doesn’t ring your home number during that time – of course that feature is entirely configurable.
They don’t have Local Number Portability (LNP) (yet?), so you can’t transfer your existing number to them, but let’s hope they change this!
Universal Voicemail Box
This also serves are your universal voicemail box, everyone leaves a message on your Google Voice number, that you can then listen to via their website, dial-in and listen, or get your messages transcribed and emailed to you. Transcription works fairly well and is getting better.
Unfortunately, Google Voice’s voicemail inbox isn’t (yet?) integrated into your Gmail inbox, but I don’t see why Google wouldn’t do that in the future.
Anti-Spam & Call Screening
Just like Gmail, Google Voice offers spam protection and pre-screening. Because of that I’m not afraid to give out my Google Voice number right here in public: +1 (801) 797-1376. Go ahead, call me. I won’t pick up unless I recognize the number, but I can listen in while you’re leaving a voice mail.
What’s more, if you keep getting calls some the same number you can filter those calls out so they here a “this number is no longer in service” message.
Here’s a sample voicemail left by one of the visitors to this article on the 7th of July, 2009:
Upsetting your Current Provider
Google Voice is at the heart a VoIP provider. This means you can receive AND make calls through it. Google doesn’t offer any SIP settings or an ATA to replace your home phone line (yet?), but you can call your own Google Voice number, input your PIN, and make a phone call through Google. Long distance calls are now a thing of the past, since domestic long distance is FREE and international rates seem to be lower than even the best-priced VoIP providers.
What’s more, say you have a cell phone plan that allows unlimited calls to/from certain phone numbers. If you’ve set your Google Voice number as one of these “friends and family” or “faves” you can call your Google Voice number from your cell phone for free, then connect to whatever other number you want (free domestic, cheap international). Not only that, calls that come through Google Voice should be seen as a call from that same “fave” (if not you can configure Google Voice to do that), and now you have free incoming calls, too. Say goodbye to minutes.
There are even Windows Mobile and Android applications that route all your outgoing calls through Google Voice. This makes the recipient’s caller ID show up as your Google Voice number, too!
Your Google Voice number is also SMS enabled, so you can get and send SMS messages to and from your Google Voice number. Though I haven’t determined how to override my provider’s SMS settings on my phone to use the Google Voice SMS gateway I’m sure that’s only a matter of time. I’d rather use email, anyway.
Obviously, your local telco and cell phone provider don’t like this much, it cuts into their bottom line. Sorry.
Just like voice messages, Google Voice gives you the option to record an incoming call. These conversations are then lumped into your Google Voice inbox with your SMSs and voice messages.
Google Voice shares the same Contacts as Gmail does, so there’s no double-entry of information.
You can assign people to various groups (friends, family, co-workers, etc.) and assign a different recorded greeting to them, automatically screen calls from people in the group, what numbers calls from people in that group are forwarded to (you might set your “co-workers” group to ring your work number and your work cell, but NOT your home phone and personal cell).
Novel New Uses
I can embed any voice message that is left (or phone conversation that I record) into a web page. I’ll even publish any voicemails that you leave as comments on this article so others can listen to them!
And if you’re not willing to publically disclose your Google Voice number, you can set up a widget to connect the call for you. Just like this one!
You can also download the recordings to your computer, forward them to someone else via email, and you caught the bit about embedding them on a webpage or blog, right?
I’ve been using this service since way back in the GrandCentral days and LOVE it. The capabilities and UI/UX have improved substantially and I’m sure they will continue to do so.
I freely give out my phone number now without fear of telemarketers, junk calls, or not wanting to talk to someone at any give time.
There’s lots of room for improvement, sure, but compare this to what you local telco or even what your cutting edge VoIP provider offers… They can’t compete. Once Google offers a way to hook into them via SIP/ATA, say goodbye to local telcos for anything other than internet service providers (ISPs).
Sign Me Up!
It’s not yet open to the public (just to us GrandCentral old-timers), so if you want it, you’ll have to sign up for an invitation (remember how it was in the early days of Gmail?).
Rumor has it they’re starting to fill invitation requests today (6/25/2009).
Today Show Spot