Most of the topics we cover here on AuctioneerTech come from technology news. In the last couple of weeks, however, one of the stories that rose to the level of national consumer news is the FCC‘s involvement in a dispute between Apple, AT&T and Google. In letters to each company, James Schlichting, Acting Chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, made it clear that the FCC wanted to know the reasons and circumstances behind the blocking of Google’s Voice application from the iPhone store. TechCrunch has copies of each letter and is doing a great job covering the politics, so let’s look at what Google Voice is and how it can help auctioneers.
Google Voice started as a company called GrandCentral which Google purchased in summer of 2007. Google immediately stopped allowing new customers to the product, though existing customers were able to use it while it was rebranded into Google Voice. We were lucky enough to have been using GrandCentral at the time it was purchased, so we’ve been enjoying the private beta since 2007. Google recently began sending invites to the new Google Voice, allowing new customers to start using the service.
In a nutshell, Google Voice manages your calls, messages and phones for free and does a better job than any carrier or other provider. With one phone number, you can ring your house phone, your mobile phone and your office phone as if they were all on the same provider. In addition to traditional phone access to voicemail, Google Voice puts transcripts of your voicemails in your email inbox.
The full list of features is huge. Of course Google Voice supports features like call forwarding and conference calling. What Google Voice does that your standard phone carrier won’t is allow you to create custom rings and ring-backs for users based on contact groups. You can block calls and route the calls to specific phones based on who is calling. You can create custom voicemail greetings based on who is calling. You can switch phones during calls.
The way Google Voice works is simple. When someone calls your Google Voice number and you pick up one of the ringing phones, you’re met with an automated prompt that asks you which of four options you’d like to select. You can accept the call, you can send the call directly to voicemail, you can listen in on the call as you send it to voicemail or you can accept and record the call. Of course all you have to do is press the button, so the prompt doesn’t make you or the caller wait more than an extra second or two.
Web access to voicemail couldn’t be simpler. If you’ve used a Gmail account, Google Voice will be very familiar. You can access the voicemail and SMS messages through the traditional Google interface, allowing you to read your voicemail conversations – Google has transcribed them to text for you – or play them through your computer speakers. You can forward, email or download your voicemails and recordings – it even provides you with embed code so you can insert a recording into a web page as easily as you can insert a YouTube video. Speaking of YouTube videos, watch the official Google Voice overview.
Many mobile phone platforms have Google Voice apps, though you can absolutely use Google Voice with any mobile or landline phone. If you dial from your home phone, the caller ID on the other end will show as your home phone number unless you call Google Voice first and then punch in the number you wish to call. The Google Voice apps allow you to more easily make calls through Google Voice rather than from the device number from which you place the calls. The apps also allow SMS (text messages) to be handled by Google Voice instead of your carrier.
The downsides to Google Voice are few but important. Other than the issue just mentioned about the extra step needed to ensure calls look like they originate from your Google Voice number, the biggest downside is that Google Voice currently requires a new phone number. If you get a new phone or are switching numbers anyway, this requirement isn’t an issue. If, however, you’ve always advertised the same business number, it may be difficult to start advertising a different phone number. Google is working to allow number portability so that you can actually take the phone number that’s been ringing at your office for the last 10 years and assign it to your Google Voice number, but they haven’t released a time when that functionality is expected.
Our biggest pet peeve with Google Voice is that you can’t have more than one Google Voice account assigned to a device, nor can you assign a Google Voice number as one of the phones on an account. This means that the grand scheme – which we can only assume would be common – of having one Voice account for work and one Voice account for personal purposes isn’t yet a possibility if you want both of them to be able to ring the phone on your hip or in your purse.
Why are phone carriers like AT&T scared of Google Voice? They make a ton of money selling text messages. Last year, CrunchGear did the math and reported that AT&T’s text messages are billed at a rate of $1,310 per megabyte. If all text messages are free through Google Voice, consumers wouldn’t have to worry about the text-messaging packages on their phone bills.
We were excited about GrandCentral and we love Google Voice. The Voice apps available for the Palm Pre are rough but they’re quite sufficient to make the switch. If you have an iPhone, don’t worry. The inclusion of parts of HTML 5 in the latest release of mobile Safari is allowing Google to develop a mobile Web app version of Google Voice that you can access through the browser that duplicates many if not all of the features that were included in the app that was rejected by Apple.
Are you using Google Voice? Have you found an exciting use for it or a downside we forgot to mention? Let us know in the comments.
UPDATE: if you’re using a mobile device, you can reach the Voice mobile page at www.google.com/voice/m – even on the iPhone.