Maybe that headline overreaches a little but not entirely. For those that have been wondering whether Google’s GrandCentral acquisition, which the company made in mid 2007 and thereafter seemed to neglect, would suffer the same fate as Dodgeball or Jaiku . . . wonder no more.
Using the GrandCentral infrastructure, and currently only available to existing GrandCentral users, Google is announcing a wide range of new services under the banner of Google Voice. These services include — get ready — “free calling” and “low-priced international calls” among a range of other things.
It would be easy at this point to get very worked up and use adjectives such as “disruptive” or otherwise go into hyperbole mode and talk about all the incumbents these services take aim at. I’ll restrain myself and reserve judgment; voice quality and reliability are potential issues. But Skype and other VoIP providers will sit up and take immediate notice for obvious reasons.
It’s services like Skype and now Google Voice that will keep the mobile operators from offering data-only plans. Skype has faced resistance getting its services onto mobile handsets and now the hairs on the back of AT&T’s neck will be up.
Here are the included features and services of Google Voice. It offers the promise of a single number that rings all phones, but also integrated SMS, free calling, free voicemail, transcription of voicemail and conference calling. Gmail integration is reportedly coming too. The services are also tied into Goog-411. For years companies such as IBM and Microsoft have spoken about “unified communications,” which has been something of an elusive dream.
What we’re seeing here may be the beginning of such services for the masses. When can I get my account?
As an aside — I always object when people raise the almost perfunctory “will there be ads?” issue with new Google services, but I’m going to do it this time — there are some interesting ad opportunities, both for text ads and audio ads (think GMail content scanning). Google just shuttered Radio Ads but pledged to find other distribution mechanisms for audio ads; might this be one?
And then there are the traditional privacy objections, summarized in this quote from the NY Times’ story:
“It raises two distinct problems,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “In the privacy world, it is increased profiling and tracking of users without safeguards. But the other problem is the growing consolidation of Internet-based services around one dominant company.”
There’s more discussion on Techmeme.
Postscript by Barry Schwartz: Google has began mass inviting people to Google Voice on June 25, 2009.