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Google Voice: The new must-have accessory?

March 12, 2009 |  2:07 pm
Phones
Google Voice will route your phone calls to the device of your choosing. Credit: alt1040 via Flickr.

If you’re a very Busy and Important person (which you surely are if you’re reading this blog), you probably have a handful of phones and devices that ring at inconvenient times. Your boss calls your work phone when you’re sitting in the hot tub during lunch, and he thinks you’re slacking. Your mom calls your cellphone when you’re at work. When you don’t answer, she assumes you’ve been hit by a bus.

GrandCentral, a phone service acquired by Google in July 2007, sought to solve these problems by giving you one number that would ring on whichever phone you choose. But Google wouldn’t let anyone create new accounts after it acquired the company (a move that created a black market for accounts on EBay).

Late last night, we found out what Google’s been doing with the service all along: improving it. It launched Google Voice, which represents a significant foray into voice communications. Google Voice, which is available initially only to GrandCentral subscribers, lets you get transcripts of your voicemails,  archive and search your SMS messages, make international calls and access GOOG-411 directory assistance. And of course, you can have one number for all of your devices.

"The new application improves the way you use your phone,” Google said in the blog post announcing the service.

Some of the coolest features: You can choose to automatically transcribe your voicemails and get them sent to you in e-mails or text messages. (The Google blog post has a nifty video of that feature). You can hold a conference call by telling people ...

... to call your Google number, then pressing 5 to add them to the same call. And you can make international calls on the cheap by calling into your voicemail and then dialing the international number.

But the most significant part of Google Voice, said Charles Golvin, principal analyst at Forrester Research, is that it will allow users to meld all of their different forms of communication -- e-mail, voicemail and SMS -- into one. That's a useful for uber-connected people who want to communicate seamlessly across many different accounts.

"People are beginning to see their various communications as more or less the same thing: voice and e-mail is not that different from SMS," he said.

Though it's still a small subset of people who will want to choose the medium they're contacted through, that group will grow, he said. Eventually, we'll all be able to decide whether we call, e-mail, text or send visual voicemail to reach our family and friends, and we'll be able to select how we receive those communications.

Google's vast user base may just speed up the number of people who want to use this service -- when it opens it up to non-GrandCentral users. Google says that will happen soon.

Until then, it's not the iPhone or the G1 that's the hot accessory anymore -- it's a GrandCentral account. TechCrunch offered free Google Voice accounts to the first 100 people who e-mailed from a Gmail account; it updated the post to say it had received several thousand requests. Those lucky 100, and anyone else prescient enough to sign up for GrandCentral, could be considered the true hipsters.

-- Alana Semuels

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