Friday, June 26, 2009

Google Voice: Cloud Meets Cell

Yesterday, to surprisingly little fanfare, Google started fulfilling invites to its new Google Voice service, which was announced back in March. This is essentially the culmination of Google's GrandCentral acquisition of 2007, but have no doubt, it's not the end of the story. It's the beginning of one.

It's hard to sound-bite Gvox. Ostensibly, it's a way to sign up for a single vanity phone number that lets you do voicemail and SMS text retrieval using VoIP from any device. According to Google:
[ Google Voice ] improves the way you use your phone. You can get transcripts of your voicemail 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.
If that sounds boring, it's because it is. But I think it may be a handful of frost scraped off the tip of a big icy thing floating in the ocean. If all Gvox did were to offer superior service to Verizon's Visual Voicemail, it would be a significant advance. But there's the potential for more. Much more.

Even before the GrandCentral acquisition, Google had big plans in the VoIP and mobile domains. You have to look no farther than United States Patent Application 20080232574 to get a hint of what I mean.

But use your imagination. If your cell phone becomes a gateway to Android cloud apps, you've essentially got the power to retool your phone with a virtualized OS, and obtain access to web apps galore. In fact, with a little sleight-of-hand, Gvox can give the appearance of completely reskinning your phone and offering a whole new menu system. Want to store your address book in the Gvox cloud? Done. Get auto-complete as you enter phone numbers? Do Google white-pages 411 lookups? Do reverse phone lookups? Record a podcast (and store it in the cloud)? Upload a cell-phone video to YouTube in a single speed-dial click? You get the idea. Let your imagination (ahem...) roam.

One thing I wish Gvox would do that I don't think it does (yet) is full many-to-many mappings of phone numbers. Right now you just get a one-to-many mapping of a vanity number to all your other numbers, which is handy enough because it means people can always reach you with just a single phone number, but I think it would be cool (especially if you're a marketer) to have the ability to map many phone-number aliases to a single target number and get advanced analytics for the resultant traffic. Who called from which number? Which ad or blog placement or campaign was the number associated with? Etc. etc.

We'll probably get all that -- and more. As I say, right now, on the surface, Google Voice doesn't sound all that exciting. But under the surface, there's a whole new world waiting. The Internet is your new dial tone.