I got an email from a friend yesterday. What was that thing where she could send text messages but not use her cellphone? The answer is Google Voice. It’s an interesting product that does a lot and stops short in a few functions that would make it a killer!
As with most of what Google does I’m not sure why they do this or where their money is made. It’s offered for free.
I have no clue how it can be sustained for free, but I’m not claiming to be the smart guy here. I fly coach. The Google founders have a large luxurious jet.
Google Voice starts simply by giving you a new, additional phone number. The number itself can be in your local area code or nearly anywhere else.
I got one for Stef with a Southern California area code with the thought she’d give it out and look local while Google Voice would sneakily (and freely) transfer the calls to her 203 cellphone. As far as I know she’s never used it.
The number comes with sophisticated voicemail which automatically transcribes messages to text and forwards them to you as a text message or email. The transcription is horrendous, but usually usable. The voice message is preserved just in case.
The Google Voice account can be set up to ring many separate phones from any incoming call. It would be nice if my friends with home, work and cell numbers used one Google Voice number. Instead of hunting them down all their phones would ring! So far none have used this–including me.
Like a cell phone Google Voice can be used for texting. If your cellphone has a data plan you no longer need a separate texting plan. It only handles text, not pictures. Too bad. I don’t know anyone who’s dropped their text plan for Google Voice’s free service even though it can be used from cellphones and computers.
All these things work. They work work reasonably well. Why aren’t they used? Is GV too kludgy… still lacking enough integration to make it an easy decision? Maybe. It still looks like a service designed by engineers for engineers.
Recently Google Voice released (and Apple finally accepted) an app to bring GV to iPhones. It was an immediate install for me!
It’s pretty slick, but every time you make a call through Google Voice it connects by first dialing through your cell account. Why doesn’t the Google Voice app use VOIP¹? This one simple step could alter the cellphone landscape forever. You could buy a cellphone with a data plan only and no minutes or text plan.
Google Voice has loads of potential, but seems flawed in execution. Maybe that’s Google’s want. Maybe they don’t want it to be more popular than they’re capable of handling. More likely they’re showing what happens when a company gets big and products must satisfy too many managers and departments.
The difference between good and great isn’t that large, but it’s enough to inhibit use. Google Voice is good, not great.
¹ – VOIP is voice over Internet protocol. It simply means calls are originated through the Internet and enter the ‘normal’ phone network late in the game. VOIP calls are data and shouldn’t use allotted cell call minutes.