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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.

1 comment:

The Person "on the line" said...

Hey, I debuted in your blog! Cool!