Just last month I posted a video review of Grand Central, a company acquired by Google that gives people the ability to manage multiple phones with a single phone number.
It's a great idea and many observers felt that Google would eventually enhance the service and introduce a host of new features, which is exactly what they did today.
Let's start with the name. Google has decided to hang-up on "Grand Central" and has instead opted for the simpler, no-frills "Google Voice". This fits in nicely with other, similarly named products in the Google stable including Gmail, GTalk and Google Maps.
But beyond the name, Google Voice includes some major enhancements. The concept is similar to the original Grand Central whereby users are assigned a virtual phone number for life which can be associated with real phone lines.....so if somebody called my virtual number my cell phone, desk phone, blackberry (or whatever combination of phones I define in my preferences) would all ring. This was a really great solution for people who use multiple phone lines during the course of the day.
With Google Voice, users can now make calls and also send and receive SMS text messages using their virtual number. All US calls can be placed for free, and international calls are pegged at an extremely low rate. To make a call you simply call your OWN virtual number on your phone, and the recorded message will prompt you to hit "2" before then allowing you to dial the number you want to call. Think Skype, just without being tethered to your computer.
You can also send and receive SMS text messages through Google Voice and a new voicemail transcript feature will actually convert your voice messages into text so that you can read them in your inbox.
There are a host of other bells and whistles too including call screening, personalized greetings, call recording and tele-conferencing. In short, Google has created a service that is a direct challenge to the major telecommunication companies.
But the story doesn't stop there. This latest move from Google speaks to a strategy of aiming to become the only truly centralized communication hub in the marketplace. You can manage your email through Gmail, your appointments through Google Calendar, your documents through G-Docs, your location through Google maps and now your phone calls and contact list through Google Voice.
Existing Grand Central customers will be converted across to Google Voice in the next few days, but new customers will have to wait for a couple of months before they can sign-up. As soon as my Grand Central account is converted, I'll post a full video review.
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