Google had a dream. It happened a little over a year ago; Google’s infamous beta invitations began to properly circulate and initiate a lot of buzz around a new, perceptually innovative, and infamously free service. This time around it was Google Voice: a service that allows users to place national and international calls through their Wi-Fi or cellular data connection using what is formally referred to as VoIP (Voice over IP).
Chances are that if you had any tech-enthusiast friends, you probably saw a Gchat status or two that read “Got a Google Voice number, call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX.” You didn’t take them seriously. You never called them at that number. And they probably didn’t take themselves seriously either. I liken this to the masses who drooled after a Google Wave invite and used it all for but 10 minutes. I was indeed one of those people. It’s that Google demand. But unlike the abandoned efforts of the recently deceased Wave, VoIP in general is a communication medium with a future, and Google Voice is a viable vessel for this medium.
It’s an Interesting Time for Change.
This year has been an amazing year for technology. As I was thinking about just how close 2011 is, I realized that 2010 was a year filled with chapters. I think what made this year so unique for web services and consumer electronics was the amazingly short amount of time developers spent in between formulating a new definition of how people interact with their technology, and acting upon it by bringing out a new service or device to satiate that theory. I think a common phrase we have been hearing from this year’s tech is “We approach our devices/browser/OS like this and here is a new product that allows us to do it a lot more efficiently.”
After about a week of rebooting all of my means of social communication and reading article-after-article addressing our “human condition” on this tech matter, I realized that a number of different of avenues were being left by the wayside in regards to communication.
New Approaches to Tech Has Helped Us Find Flaws.
If one really thinks about it, our means of communication are completely fragmented. Joe the Consumer – on average – has barely taken any notice of it. And reasonably so; something new and interesting comes out and he, like with any other service, tacks it on to his arsenal of social connectivity. Facebook Message, Twitter DM, Phone, E-mail, SMS … the average tech-savvy 20-something has 5 different means of communication accessible to the same cloud of friends, with Facebook being the most liberal and haphazard cloud of social ecosystems.
Does it really have to be this way?
The answer is no, and the solution (for now) is Google.
I Am an Official, Active Google Voice User.
It’s been a couple of weeks and I have officially made my Google Voice number my primary number with which people contact me. All I had to do was lie and say that my old number would be phased out in favor of my new one and never mention “Google.” If I could describe my experience thus far in a word, it would be “seamless.” You might ask how something as familiar as taking calls or sending texts can be better with Google’s web-dependent service. I’ve compiled a list of pros and cons for making the switch to Google Voice that you may find helpful. I’ll conclude my assessment with the solution to our communication fragmentation dilemma above.
Why Google Voice is a Win:
1. It’s free. All national calls are free with Google Voice, as they should be. If you have an internet connection, whether it’s from your school, a neighbor, your home, your phone’s cellular data, or the library, it’s yours to place a call with no minute-counter running. Net neutrality gives us this freedom. Remember that. Because it’s all on the web, it even allows international calls to be significantly cheaper. The cost for me to call family in Trinidad & Tobago is literally 1/3 of the rate I pay for AT&T. I promptly turned my international calling off.
Furthermore, free texting. Cell phone carriers screw Americans the most through their SMS plans. 25 cents for a text message? I remember when it used to be almost a dollar. Do you realize how much data you’re actually sending to another phone in a text message? A fraction of a kilobyte! The cost per-kilobyte of data usage – when they used to be metered – was even less than the cost of a text message (15 cents or so on AT&T at one point). Somehow they still have us fooled.
2. You pick your own number. You get to sift through a library of available numbers in whatever area code you prefer and find something memorable. Mine is pure genius. Further, you can put words in your number. For example, my old number was something like 201-49-SATCH. Much easier to remember.
3. You can sync the service with your smartphone and use it seamlessly. If you have an Android device, using your Google Voice account with your device is very easy. And with the new Google Voice app for the iPhone, same deal. You can place and receive calls/SMS from your device with real notifications and caller ID just like the default Phone/SMS apps.
4. You can call and text from your browser. This I find absolutely amazing, especially in the work setting. As lax as your company may be, no one likes to be seen tapping away on their phone in their cubicle as their boss passes by. Keep a Google Voice tab open and if someone sends you a text, you can view and respond from your browser. In all honestly, isn’t it a lot more comfortable texting with a full keyboard if one is sitting right in front of you? If you miss a call and someone leaves a voicemail, Google uses their superior voice-transcribing software to give you a written version of your voicemail for viewing.
There are a lot of other benefits to having calls in browsers, such as recording conversations or calling yourself if you’ve misplaced your phone. Having all your texts logged in one secure place is a lot easier for reference as well. Usually letting SMS messages compile can slow your phone or kill space. There’s no need to remove any logs if it’s in a cloud. When I’m at my computer – which is all day – my phone operates as a pager. I get a vibrate and I don’t even have to pull it out. I just check my browser for a message via SMS or otherwise.
Bad reception, solved (partially). The basement of my library is the best level to get work done. No one is socializing down there and one can actually find an outlet for their laptop. Unfortunately, it comes at the sacrifice of no cellular connection; it is a bonafide dead-zone. No problem, however, since the library has Wi-Fi everywhere. With Google Voice, I can still take and make calls through Wi-Fi alone. Carriers such as T-Mobile have adopted this “Wi-Fi Fallback” option for poor reception. But T-Mobile is charging for it. Why should you be charged for using data that they never provided you? Think about it.
Why Google Voice is Fail
1. Cloud Storage Delay. All of the benefits of Google Voice are found in the fact that everything takes place in a cloud. However, with those benefits comes a negative or two. This has nothing to do with receiving calls or text messages; these all arrive relatively instantaneously. But when you launch your Google Voice app to check your text conversations or call log, depending on when you launch it, it literally takes 1-3 seconds for your information to load. You may have to tap a refresh button (on the iPhone you just drag your finger down) for your logs to update properly.
2. The hassle of switching numbers. This comes with the territory of getting anything new. New emails are a bit easier though. I think the biggest part of switching is getting people to take your Google Voice number seriously. People are lazy and are also slow to adopt anything they didn’t see on TV. You can lie like I did, or just be stern. This also just depends on your group of friends.
3. You can’t completely terminate your voice/text plan. Despite the fact that in an ideal world, one could just pay the $30 bucks for unlimited/2GB per-month data plan and have your own little unlimited call/text/internet plan with Google Voice, the carriers do not like the convenience of this. Why? Because they won’t make as much money. They’d rather continue to charge you on the standards of minutes and text quantities because it yields greater profit for them. You can’t cancel your voice and text altogether. What you can do, however, is get the lowest, cheapest text and voice plan available and ride off of that. It saves if you’re a heavy texter and feel like you need the unlimited text plan.
Back to Social Service Fragmentation
I hope my findings thus far have helped you in your decision-making process. But let’s go back to the social fragmentation I mentioned earlier. How does adding another service unify one’s means of communication? It doesn’t. But if you think about it, your Phone/Voicemail and SMS were really the only two means of communication that stood outside of a cloud (the internet, if you don’t get it by now). By having every means of communication up there, it opens up the potential of having one, centralized place for all of your incoming messages, no matter what medium.
Thanks to the helpful and clearly knowledgeable folks at Lifehacker.com, there is a clever and useful way of syncing all of your different venues for communication into one place. Assuming that you were wise enough to adopt Google E-mail (Gmail) as your inbox provider, the process is relatively simple. If you check out my inbox above you’ll see that I have constantly-updated inboxes for every messaging service that one could ever contact me with. And if I get a phone call, I can take it inside of Gmail as well! I’m constantly working with clients who may first contact me via Facebook, then call me and leave a voicemail, and finally send an email with work. I shouldn’t need to check three different devices to piece together the chains of our conversation. And now I don’t need to. Find the tutorial here.