Making free phone calls comes to Gmail

I'm a big fan of Google Voice, Google's free phone and voice-mail management service. This is in part because I have a "Google phone", so the applications and hardware come seamlessly integrated. I haven't once made use of my Verizon-provided voice-mail service, I've used Google Voice since the day I got my Droid, enjoying automatically transcribed voice-mail messages that I can skim through just as I would my email inbox, rather than the cumbersome dialing, entering my pin, pressing "1" to "hear my new messages..." and so on. All in all, I think that it is a much more elegant process. I also enjoy the call-forwarding that Google Voice provides. I have my custom phone number that is provided by Google Voice, which I give out to people, then based on who's calling, when they're calling, and other variables of my choosing, I have my incoming calls routed to my cell, work line, or both (or sometimes straight to voicemail).

Google's latest addition to their Voice-related product line is "calling from Gmail," the ability to dial a US or Canadian number right from your Gmail inbox. You then use your mic and speakers on your computer to talk with the person on the other end of the line, all for free. This is basically providing a service akin to VOIP, such as Skype. But this is not merely a new service that Google is providing. This is a step towards unification - consolidating our modes of communication, so that the lines between cellphone, computer, email, IM, chat, and VOIP, all begin to be blurred. Google's strategy is to provide convenience of existing means of communication, not fragmentation of it. I learned this first-hand last night: I was on my computer, logged into Gmail, my phone was in the other room and I needed to make a call. With one click, I had the person "on the phone," hands-free. The call quality was very good, much better than my cell's speakerphone function. It was terrifically easy and convenient, and I'll definitely use it again.

So what's next? Well, this Google calling feature already supports video calling too, so I believe we will be seeing mobile video calling integration as soon as the hardware supports it - something to rival Apple's Facetime feature. I also believe that Google has a lot more work to do on the interface. Currently, Google calling only exists as a small text link within Gmail. A dedicated widget, frame, or desktop app is necessary to make this stand out to users as something really unique and popular. Raising awareness will be key for this service to take off. It will also be interesting to see how this integrates with Google's Fall social networking debut. We will wait and see.

Thoughts on the Apple iPad

I am a PC. We have a grand total of nine of them in the house, actually. One of them is running Windows Media Center as the brain behind our home theater. Me and my wife's phone both run Android, and I refuse to run Quicktime, iTunes, or Safari on any of my computers. Personally, I wouldn't want it any other way. I consider myself to be the complete opposite of an Apple fanboy. In fact, you may say I'm a PC fanboy. That being said, I think that Apple makes absolutely fantastic products, and they really know what they're doing.

So despite a lot of the negative feedback, I think the new Apple iPad has a good shot at being a success. I can completely understand Apple's reason for developing it, and I can fully see the market segment that it targets. The challenge is that it's a new market, and the people in it don't realize that they...are. I think Apple's goal with this thing is to truly change the way we interact with computers and the internet; the mouse and keyboard have stuck around for too long, I wholeheartedly agree. As things move into "the cloud", all we will need is a web browser. No disk drives, no storage media, no peripherals, just a way to connect to the rest of the world directly using the tools that we already use most - our fingers.

Personally, I've decided I like the product. I believe it will be difficult for many people to also do so until they actually get their hands on it, which won't be for a few months.

But in the meantime, I say to Jobs and the gang, "Good work, Apple. I see what you did there."

The web is only five thousand days old. What will happen in the next five thousand days?

The internet has developed at a remarkable pace in a short amount of time. Kevin Kelly presents a stunningly insightful look at the future of web, cloud, and social computing, as well as how it will affect our lives in the days to come. Short video, definitely worth a look.

I want to got to there.

In addition to my desire to someday experience a sensory deprivation tank first hand, I have also yet to visit an anechoic chamber. An anechoic chamber is a facility that is void of any reverberant properties - there's no echo. The largest one in the world (unless the government has some secret one at area 51 or somewhere) is located at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Gizmodo's feature editor Wilson Rothman recently visited an anechoic chamber built by Microsoft, of all people. From what I understand from others who HAVE experienced being in an anechoic chamber, the sensation is always surreal and disorienting, and gives you an idea of just how much we take our...ears...for granted. Link to his writeup about his visit is below.

Microsoft's Anechoic Chamber: The Place Where Sound Goes To Die (gizmodo)

Microsoft working on iTablet killer?

Amid all the recent buzz about the upcoming Apple Tablet, Microsoft has leaked some impressive images of a tablet/notepad style device dubbed the Microsoft Courier. The notable surprise here is the use of dual screens, making it more of a book-style device, and the inclusion of a stylus. It is also unclear whether it will run an existing OS such as Windows 7 or use a proprietary OS built just for the device. Either way, it looks pretty snazzy, I'll take one!

Courier Tablet Runs Windows 7, Hardware By Microsoft (gizmodo)