I was accepted into Google Voice recently. I've been playing with it lightly for a few weeks, and explaining it to a few people. It's amazingly cool, but less useful to me than to other people with different life/work styles. I'm on a fairly predictable schedule, don't use SMS much, and don't worry about calling minutes.

Basically, Google Voice is Google managing your phone service. You can click a 'call' button/link, and Google will call you, then call your recipient, and connect you. They offer free national calling (since Google calls both you and the callee), although this doesn't help with cellular minutes, and loses the benefit of free in-network cellular calling. Google Voice also offers free SMS, but of course received SMS messages are billed normally. I use AT&T's SMS gateway, so don't expect to use this much (most of my friends & family use iPhones). Google emails voicemail audio & transcripts (very handy, but not terribly accurate). GV always rings on my iPhone, and during business hours it also rings at my desk, so people don't have to worry about where to call me.

Kevin recommended GV Mobile for the iPhone, but I wasn't sure which app to use (there were 3 Google Voice apps on the store, and reviews were split). I got GV Mobile Lite, but the Lite version doesn't actually call contacts -- it just lets you punch in numbers, which isn't worth the trouble. A week later, Apple rejected Google's official GV app and deleted GV Mobile and the competitors -- had I known, I would have bought GV Mobile or a competitor while they were still available, as GV seems worth it. Hopefully Apple will re-allow them -- everybody (including the FCC) is angry about this. Fortunately, the iPhone is a good enough phone that I don't really need to call through GV, and their mobile page is usable if I want to. If I was trying to force people to call me through GV, I'd want to only call through GV to avoid them seeing my iPhone number, but this isn't a problem for me.

Since I loaded my address book onto my Treo 600 in 2003, I've wanted the same calling convenience through home and work landlines. Amy has actually taught people how to do this through the phone systems at her current and previous jobs, but I haven't worked anywhere with such sophisticated telecom (although I've had IP phones in my last 3 jobs, so it's certainly been possible somehow). I envisioned a Bluetooth or wired headset with VoIP software and Skype or something like that, but I've never really used Skype, and VoIP at my jobs has been dedicated phone handsets communicating over TCP/IP, rather than calling through a general-purpose computer. I'd even consider something that would let the iPhone initiate calls via WiFi or Bluetooth, since it holds all my contacts & numbers.

During this era, I used one set of earphones for music at work, a wireless headset for phone calls, and another set of noise-reducing earphones with my iPod on the train, with a 3.5mm to 2.5mm adapter for the Treo. The iPhone eliminated the whole ritual of switching connections between iPod and Treo to make/receive calls, which was a big win. Unfortunately, my nice third-party iPhone earphones with mic & button are pre-3GS, and don't have the extra buttons for volume control, but I don't really need that. These days, current Macs support microphone & volume control on the earphones, making them even better for Skype / soft phones.

When I got an iPhone a couple years ago, it was far enough advanced over our home phones that I largely stopped wanting smarter dialing at home, because I just started calling people from the iPhone, except the 20 or so people programmed into all our handsets. Now I only call a few people (who are programmed into all 4 handsets) on our home phones, and the only problem with the iPhone is that the speakerphone is inferior. If we didn't have Julia we would have dropped our home number years ago.

For years, I've wished my work voicemail would send me MP3s of received calls, but again this hasn't yet been available at my jobs. Visual Voicemail shows how convenient it is, and Qualcomm had this implemented long long ago. I'm happy Google Voice does this, and the text transcripts are cool, even though they're not accurate enough to be very useful yet.

I have noticed a couple issues with Google Voice, though. Contacts in Google Voice & Gmail can be stale / out of sync. I updated one and the other didn't update immediately. This is confusing, and they should all be consistent. Also, I tried synching the Mac Address book on 2 Macs against Google, thinking this would let me make changes at work and have them update at home, but it made several duplicates at both home and work (probably Apple's problem, as it's their synchronization tool). My working alternative is to my home address book against Google; at work, I make changes in Google, and treat the Address Book application as read-only. I keep it current with a daily rsync from home.

Since I don't use GV much, it took me a few weeks to stop feeling like I should say "hello" when GV calls me. At this point it's just dead air, since Google calls me first, and then calls the recipient. I kept starting to speak when I picked up the phone and feeling silly.

Giving Google all my contact information felt a bit weird. I decided it was worth it for Google Voice. I would have done it years ago if I'd use Gmail, but have been unwilling to give Google all my email. I had to go through and purge some private date I'd been keeping as notes in Address Book, but this wasn't bad. With all the brouhaha about NetNewsWire using Google Reader, I've been thinking about privacy issues with Google a lot lately. Interestingly, of the 4 types of data I've considered giving Google, RSS is probably the most useful to them -- what links I'm interested in is the easiest to use for advertising. Email is tremendously valuable too, but doesn't map as directly to ads. Feed information, though, is disproportionately useful. Contacts is probably the most valuable data to me, but doesn't map as easily to Google's advertising business -- more to where they want to be, to compete with Facebook. Calendar data doesn't really worry me.


Update 2009/08/27: I just discovered Google Voice's useful keyboard shortcuts.

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