Google introduces telephone services

Chicago (IL) – Google has yet again managed to find a pot to dip their money hand into, this time it’s the phone industry. It would appear that the company’s goal is to be the hub of all of its user’s communication needs, be they data or voice, by now providing both incoming and outgoing phone service with special features, such as click the number to call from your Google dashboard.

Last year, when Google acquired Grand Central, which is both a product and a company (one allowing users to have one number for all of their incoming and outgoing needs including home, work and cell phones), they began overhauling the service. They changed the name and added a few new offerings aiming to appeal to the masses.

The Mountain View-based Internet giant will begin introducing a phone service which allows users to make free domestic calls, cheap international calls, save and share voice mail messages, voice mail transcription, screen calls, and even send calls to a different phone depending upon the caller, along with the list of features seen below.

The new service, called Google Voice, will aid Google in propelling itself away from merely online search and advertising. Long distance carriers and VoIP companies like Skype may also need to re-think their game plan because what Google has rolled out competes directly with their core business.

Google Voice has a voicemail transcription service which automatically transcribes voicemails for users — so they can avoid checking long winded voicemail messages. The transcription can be sent to a cell-phone or email address. The voice recognition software isn’t perfect, but will be improved upon over time. Similar technology and abilities have been offered previously by SpinVox and SimulScribe.

Google is offering the service first to current users of GrandCentral, and then it will be made publicly available to everyone else.

Their service does not give users the ability to totally abandon their basic phone service completely; however, they will no longer be forced to pay for domestic long-distance calls, a service which could begin to hurt long distance providers.

Users can make calls two different ways. The first is to dial their Google Voice number and press 2 at the prompt, and then dial the number they wish to call (the intended). The second is to click on a specific number within their online dashboard and have the service ring their phone, and then connect them with the intended.

[Editor’s note: Several companies, such as florists, already utilize this growing trend “click to dial” service online which calls your phone immediately to connect to theirs. It provides a prompt saying “One moment please while I connect your party”, and then dials the intended number (such as the floral company). It’s a very efficient way of dialing the intended number without having to know their number or manually punch in their unfamiliar digits, but rather only your own number (which you should remember).]

With Google Voice, domestic calls will be free, while international calls will be charged at a per minute rate, with the rates varying by country. The use of the phone for international calling requires an account through Google Checkout. Google Checkout stores credit card information for users, allowing charges to be applied to their card by various Google-related vendors.

Currently, Skype offers free domestic and international calls made between computers. However, there is a fee for calls which are made from computers to landline and mobile phones (SkypeOut), and a user must purchase a permanent phone number to receive incoming calls on their computer through Skype (SkypeIn).

Additional features shown on the Google Voice About page include:

Call screening – Announce and screen callers
Listen in – Listen before taking a call
Block calls – Keep unwanted callers at bay
SMS – Send, receive, and store SMS
Place calls – Call US numbers for free
Taking calls – Answer on any of your phones
Phone routing – Phones ring based on who calls
Forwarding phones – Add phones and decide which ring
Voicemail transcripts – Read what your voicemail says
Listen to voicemail – Check online or from your phone
Notifications – Receive voicemails via email or SMS
Personalize greeting – Vary greetings by caller
Share voicemail – Forward or download voicemails
Conference calling – Join people into a single call
Call record – Record calls and store them online
Call switch – Switch phones during a call
Mobile site – View your inbox from your mobile
GOOG-411 – Check directory assistance
Manage groups – Set preferences by group