Google is introducing their latest service – a voice application branded as Google Voice. Google Voice is based on a product formerly known as Grand Central, which Google acquired a couple years back. Google is touting Google Voice as “one number for life,” meaning customers subscribe to the service and can use one telephone number to manage all of their communications needs, including mobile, home, business, and SMS. It’s a manifestation of the so called unified communications trend. In Google’s own words, Google Voice is “… a service that gives you one number for all your phones, voicemail that is easy as email, and many enhanced calling features like call blocking and screening, voicemail transcripts, call conferencing, international calls, and more.” Its more evidence to support the idea that voice is evolving into an application that rides a broadband pipe.
Google Voice offers a variety of features including:
- One Phone Number – your Google Voice number can be programmed to ring all of your existing phones (mobile, home, office, etc).
- ListenIn – screen calls by ‘listening in’ before answering.
- SMS Integration – send and receive SMS messages, as well as forward them to your wireless phone. SMS is treated more like email in that you can have an SMS inbox on your computer and respond the same way as email.
- Voicemail – in addition to standard voicemail, it offers unified messaging, including receiving voicemail messages in email and SMS.
- Voicemail Transcription – transcribes voicemail to text so it can be read.
- Conference Calling – you can add callers to a conference call by ‘drag and drop’ on your computer – up to six callers at a time.
- Free Calling – free calling to all U.S. domestic phone numbers. International calling does incur a fee.
- Contacts – integration with Gmail.
The above is an abbreviated list. The features are far too numerous to list in a blog post. There are some pretty cool features as well, like the ability to customize voicemail messages to specific callers – your lovely spouse can get his/her own unique voicemail message. You can also switch phones in mid-call by pressing *. That makes all of your programmed phones ring simultaneously, so you can pick up your ongoing call on another phone. On a call and rushing out the door – no problem – migrate your current home phone call to your cell phone by pressing * and answering your cell phone, and off you go.
Did I mention that all of these services are free (with the exception of international calling). Quite a compelling proposition. While we don’t expect the masses (for example all area codes are not yet available for a Google Voice ‘number for life’) to adopt Google Voice at the expense of everyone else, we do view Google Voice as a ‘game changer.’ It’s the first unified communications platform to be made available to everyday consumers from a brand that everyone knows and relatively trusts. The competitive implication may not create some type of massive ‘Google’ substitution effect. After all – it’s not replacing phone service – just improving it greatly. But what it will do is put pressure on traditional providers of voice service to adapt and innovate – maybe in partnership with Google. Service providers who do not recognize the trend of voice becoming a feature rich value added application risk marginalization of their service and themselves.
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