Posts Tagged ‘GoogleVoice’

14
Mar

Google Voice makes your phone smarter

Written by Rick Henrikson. Posted in Productivity, Technology


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It’s amazing to think how much communication has changed just during my quarter century of life.  I got to see the rise of the internet, cell phones, and then cell phones with internet.  Bad-ass.  Now it’s hard to imagine what communication will look like 25 years from now, but I’ll bet Google will help push us there in at least some respects.  For example, telephone communications suffer from a number of obnoxious shortcomings that Google has solved through their acquisition and subsequent development of Grand Central, a service you might better recognize as Google Voice.

Sometimes Google makes awesome acquisitions

Google has really been on top of its game when it comes to acquiring awesome products (YouTube, Etherpad, Picnik, Aardvark, Docverse, etc.).  But one of their greatest claims has been Grand Central.  I remember a few years ago when I was using Callwave to transcribe my voicemails and Grand Central to control the flow of my calls from phone to phone.  Eventually, Callwave began charging for the service and, being a cheap grad student, I switched to Messagesling (deadpooled, unfortunately).  However, my investment in Grand Central was validated when Google acquired them in 2007.  But this basically lead to a lot of frustration on our end, as Google seemed to neglect the service for over a year.  And then, out of nowhere, Google released Grand Central again, but rebranded as Google Voice.  And the new service offered a number of improved features (including voice-to-text transcription).  This quickly became my primary telephony manager.

Google Voice has more features than you can shake a stick at

But that’s ok, you don’t have to use all of them.  But just in case you’re curious, here’s a summary:

  • Call Forwarding | You set up a custom phone number (area code of your choice) that acts like a forwarding email address.  Anyone calling this number passes through Google’s pipes and gets directed to one or more of your phones based on individual and group settings (coworkers ring the work phone, friends ring the cell).
  • Voicemail Transcription | Although the accuracy is questionable, I can generally get the gist of the voicemail based on the transcription, eliminating the need to waste time listening to most messages.
  • Call Recording | Simply pressing ‘4’ during a received call starts audio recording (saved to your Google Voice account).  Unfortunately this doesn’t appear to work for outgoing calls yet, but would be awesome for keeping track of customer support communications (for quality assurance purposes only, of course).
  • Searchable Aggregation| Everything is stored within arm’s reach, and it’s all searchable.  You can finally get your personal and work communications all together.
  • Free SMS | SMS is the biggest scam when it comes to mobile charges, but you can bypass these rates using Google Voice’s SMS capabilities (via the web or the native application).  Although Sprint offers reasonable rates on plans with unlimited texts.
  • Phone on the Interwebs | You can readily search your text messages and voicemails via the intuitive web interface, Android application, or mobile website (for those stuck with iPhones).  Google offers call widgets to ease communication even further.  I generally use the chrome plugin to manage texts and voicemails when I’m at my computer.
  • Be an Asshole | Google Voice gives you lots of opportunities here.  When someone calls, you have the option to listen-in as they leave a voicemail, deciding whether their puny request merits a response.  You can also block numbers with ease, or set up granular options to forward to voicemail.

Room for improvement

While Google is definitely pushing some metaphorical envelopes with its Voice product, there are still quite a few critical envelopes looking for some pushing-love.

  • Let’s begin with integration.  If you don’t have a smart phone capable of running the Google Voice app (including the magic phone), you have to deal with a browser interface, which makes the app basically useless (it would just confuse your friends when you call from a different number from what they have stored).
  • Even if you do have the authentic GVoice application, there doesn’t seem to be really good SMS integration.  The app must remain open in order to receive notifications of text messages sent to GVoice (I circumvent this by having GVoice notifications forward to gmail, but not my SMS, so I get voicemail/SMS notification via the gmail notifier on Android).  However, this means you’re out of luck if you wander somewhere without a data connection, like Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe.
  • Google still seems to be having trouble working out number porting, so you can’t quite port your current number over yet.  But they do let you make Google Voice your designated voicemail inbox for your current number.
  • The Google Voice site seems a bit superfluous, and would probably be best implemented like Buzz, as an integrated layer within gmail.  I already have these events forwarding to gmail, but really the whole communication interface should probably be there.  Threading is also pretty bad in google voice, making SMS conversations a bit cumbersome to deal with.
  • I still haven’t noticed much in the way of third party development on Google Voice.  This could lend a lot of power to Google’s platform, so it’s probably just a matter of time before it happens.  Especially considering the competition is playing this very angle.

Competition

Although Google seems to be safely ahead of its competitors, there is still quite a big market to grab, with a number of players reaching for it.  Ribbit has already promoted some early showcases of its salesforce-style solution to telephony.  Apple is also competing with Google Voice in some respects, trying to fascistitize it out of the app market because it’s better than Apple’s native interface.  Gizmo5 also had an interesting technology until – oops, acquired by Google.  Of course you can’t ignore the big old school fish in the new school sea, as Microsoft promotes their Phone Data Manager.  There’s also Jajah and Skype for calling, Skydeck to track calls, Zyb to manage contacts, Slydial to sneak around voicemail, and Jott to interface with messaging.  Am I forgetting anyone?  I guess it doesn’t really matter, Google Voice will take over anyway. U! S! A! U! S! A!!!

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