For Skype customers and just about anyone else who’s every typed phone numbers into a virtual dial pad, Gmail video and voice chat, even with its new ability to make free calls to cell and landlines, may warrant a big whoop. I had the dubious pleasure of retrieving voice mail through my email at some point in the late 1990s, so some of this telephony novelty has worn thin.
The biggest difference between the ancient branches on the email-voice evolutionary tree and the latest VoIP creations from Google, Skype and others is the Web and mobile calling, coupled with improved codecs. In other words, the overall technology has evolved in steps, not with a giant leap forward. It is slowly but surely achieving greatness.
There are already tens of million of existing Gmail users to talk and video chat with in direct computer-to-computer fashion. Google’s announcement last week to unite Google Voice (the service that rings all your phones) with Gmail and to throw in free outbound calls will probably add millions more. Most significantly, this service, is or will soon be available on Android phones as well.
Over the weekend, I tried Gmail’s existing video chat and made a free landline call. Conclusion: the new and improved Gmail service is a big deal for a number of reasons.
I’ve been a Google Voice customer since it was in private beta, relying on their voice transcription service to email messages left on my cell phone. The transcription quality is good enough, and for simple messages without too much background noise, it is very, very good.
On the email side of the aisle, I have a Gmail account, which I use when I don’t want to clog my other email accounts with non-urgent, non-personal correspondence. I just don’t access it that frequently, and had let the text and video chat features completely rust away.
Spurred by the free dialing that was added to Gmail last week, I took a first look at the video chat. Video calling a friend, I experienced smooth and non-choppy sailing with excellent HD sound quality. This is not at all like the early video apps I trialed pre-dot com bust.
I had so much fun with Google Chat, I may schedule more of these digital meetings.
As for the free calls from Gmail to a wireline phone, there wasn’t a hitch.
So Google has engineered another simple, error-free app that clearly will compete and may ultimately assign Skype to a long list of extinct tech companies. A very big deal!
Another big deal is that the new integrated Gmail-Voice app will gain a foothold in large and small businesses. When I was walking between meetings in my last cube-land job, I invariably saw someone staring into their Gmail or iGoogle page. Now with Gmail’s free phone outbound calling, there’s fewer reasons for corporate workers to use that aging relic, the business phone.
Hint to business phone manufacturers: Try a retro campaign and make the business phone chic, in a Mad Men kind of way!
Finally, it is not a coincidence that this announcement comes after Google and Verizon went public with their dating, I mean their joint net neutrality proposal.
Google Voice has been a point of contention for the carriers. In the past a shot across the bow like this from Google would be met with letters to the FCC.
I suspect this time around there won’t be a peep. Except from Skype.