As a counter point to the earlier review of the iPhone, this week we’re looking at something you can’t get on the iPhone: Google Voice.
A while ago, there used to be a service called Grand Central. This was bought out by Google and re-named Google Voice. And then Google started adding new capabilities to it. GV is another of Google’s projects that is eternally in beta. And like many of the others, if you can get in, it is pretty darn useful. Right now, Google Voice is invitation only, which means that you need to find someone with a Google Voice number and ask them to send you an invite. If you can’t find anyone, or your friends have all run out of invites, you can also go to https://services.google.com/fb/forms/googlevoiceinvite/ and ask Google if they’d be nice enough to send you an invite. And if you’re not sure if you want one or not, you can look at the list of features at http://www.google.com/voice. The price, however, is right: Google Voice is free, unless you use it for international calls. And even then there are considerable savings, depending on where you are calling and for how long.
When you sign up for Google Voice, you tell GV what one of your phone numbers is, and GV will either take over that number, or will assign you a new Google Voice phone number. Using your existing number is convenient if you don’t want to have to give a new phone number to your contacts, but it can cause some problems. So it may be easier to manage by just getting a new Google Voice number. When someone calls your GV number, their call gets forwarded to your phone. At that level, it seems a little useless. But these days, most people have more than one phone. You have your home number, your cell phone, your work number. Pull all of these numbers into GV, and when someone calls your GV number, ALL of your phones ring. The call gets routed to the phone you actually pick up on and you conduct your conversation normally. And you can build rules in GV to control which phones get called, so your home phone won’t ring when you’re at work, and your work phone won’t ring during the weekend. And so no phones will ring between midnight and 8 AM. Whatever works for you. Or if you just want to “hold all calls”, turn on the Do Not Disturb feature, either for a set period of minutes, hours, or days, or just until you turn it off again.
So what happens to the call if you don’t pick up? Google Voice also gives you voice-mail on your GV number. You can listen to the voice mail on your web site, or you can give GV an e-mail address and GV will attempt transcribe the audio message into text and e-mail the text to you. The transcription is completely automated. It’s not perfect, but you can pretty much get the idea. It even shades the words in the transcript to show you how confident the software is with the transcription.
You can text for free with GV, and you can have incoming text messages forwarded to your cell phone, although normal texting rates on your cell still apply. This can sometimes be confusing to the people you are texting with. GV has settings that will allow you to appear to text with your regular cell number, or with your GV number. So do some thinking about your texting habits before you start using Google Voice to text, or your friends may think you’ve got two different phones that you’re texting them with.
Google voice is free in the US, and provides free long distance in the US, and special rates for overseas calls. You can sign up for GV without paying a cent, or giving a credit card number. They even give you a ten cent credit when you sign up, even if you never give them any kind of payment information. But it won’t let you make international calls unless you do arrange for payment.
Coolest of all, you can create groups and build rules based on the groups. That way your folks can’t call you at work, but your business associates can. Someone bothering you? Block their number altogether. Send calls from your creditors straight to voice-mail, but let your close friends ring on through. The tools give you a lot of control. And even if you’ve built rules for groups, you can override them by putting special rules on an individual. You can even record multiple voice mail messages so that the outgoing message changes depending on who is calling.
And since you can block anybody, and have voice mail, your GV number is safe to publish on the internet. Or put a GV widget on your website so someone can click it and have GV call them and you. Just like the one I just added to the Right sidebar. Care to give me feedback on this or any other part of The Nifty Tech Blog? Just click the widget and enter your phone number. GV will call you and connect you to my voice mail.
If you’re tired of giving out all of your numbers to people, or you need to give someone a contact number, but don’t really want them to have your real phone number, just give them your GV number. Do you need someone to call you at a specific time, but don’t know where you will be? Just give out your Google Voice number and you’re done. If someone calls you that isn’t in your address book, GV automatically screens the call. You pick up, hear their name, and GV gives you a menu of options that lets you accept the call, or send them to voice-mail, or transfer them to a different number.
Google Voice is still an evolving product, so by the time you read this, some of the features may have changed, or new features added on. The aim of Google Voice is to give people control over their phone experience. And they seem to be doing a decent job so far. There are even a number of official and third-party applications that let you access Google Voice features from your mobile phone. Unless you’ve got an iPhone that is.
For some reason, Apple doesn’t seem to want the Google Voice experience on the iPhone. There were a number of iPhone applications in the App store that let users access their GV accounts, but Apple pulled them all, and they’ve been very tight lipped about why the applications were pulled. When an official reason was finally offered, Apple said that the applications duplicated functionality that already existed on the iPhone. Yeah. Right. iPhone using consumers can only hope that Apple and Google with patch over whatever snit their having and team up to give us better access to their products and our data. In the meantime, Google has created a mobile web page for Google Voice to put as much of the functionality into a web app as possible. To access the web app version, just point Mobile Safari to m.google.com/voice.
Google Voice helps simplify your life by giving you a single phone number for everything, that never changes, but still gives you control over who can call you, where and when you’ll get their call, and how phone messages will find you. It even allows you to take calls on any phone that happens to be around. Google Voice gives you the power to make your phone number dance to your own tune. And that definitely fits my definition of Nifty Tech.
And a thanks to IconsPedia.com for the Google Voice icon at the top of this article. – Editor.