Google Voice -- One number for all your phones

Service also transcribes your messages and lets you record and store calls

Tired of having colleagues and friends miss you when they call your office while you're in the car with another phone? Or of having to call into three or four different voice mail systems to get all of your messages?

If you are, well, that's good news for Google Inc.

The company today announced that it's previewing a new offering called Google Voice, which is a hosted suite of applications designed to offer a variety of phone-related services. For example, Google voice is designed to provide a single number for your home and office land line phones and various cell phones. It also offers a single message repository for all of the voice mail systems associated with those phones, and it creates transcripts of messages and has the ability to record calls and store them online.

"The new application improves the way you use your phone," said a Google blog post written yesterday by some Google Voice product managers. "You can get transcripts of your voice mail and archive and search all of the SMS text messages you send and receive. You can also use the service to make low-priced international calls and easily access Goog-411 directory assistance."

The applications are an offshoot of GrandCentral, a service that Google bought about a year and a half ago. With a motto of "one number for life," GrandCentral had gained attention with tools that would let all of a person's phones ring no matter which of his or her multiple numbers was dialed. Analysts and users had been waiting since then to see how Google planned to use the technology.

And with Google in an expansive mode when it comes to new business ventures -- it has upgraded its Google Health service and unveiled the Google PowerMeter in recent weeks -- this seems as good a time as any to introduce Google Voice, according to Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc.

"Google is moving in a lot of different directions, which is typical for them but atypical for most companies in these troubled economic times," said Olds. "But Google has always cut against the grain, and that has usually paid off for them. This move into telecommunications may well be the line of business that diversifies their revenue stream. While the service is free now, as the feature set expands, Google could easily make the move to charge users a small flat fee down the road. This is an interesting move to capitalize on the intersection of computing and communications."

Olds also noted that with people's lives becoming increasingly complicated with various communication devices, multiple phone numbers to remember and several voice mail systems to check, this could be a handy service for the overworked... or at least the overly connected.

"This service pulls together a lot of handy features that will simplify users' lives," he said. "The ability to have all of their various numbers centralized on a single number is very helpful. Also the ability to have messages delivered via the Web, in text or audio format, is very helpful for those who are always on the go but can't always access their phone."

People who already are using GrandCentral will receive instructions in their in-boxes over the next several days on how to get started with Google Voice, according to the blog entry. The service is slated to be opened up to new users "soon," according to Google.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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