Google Voice: It’s the End of the Phone As We Know It

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get the gist across. After just a couple of days as a Google Voice user, I can attest that reading the transcripts of your voicemail messages is 10 times faster than listening to them. And if you think the speech-recognition software garbled something crucial, you can always call into Google Voice or go to the website to play the original recording, which is stored forever, or at least until you delete it. (Thanks, by the way, to everyone who responded to my Twitter post yesterday asking for help testing Google Voice. It was great to hear from all of you! But you can stop now. My Google voice inbox is getting alarmingly full.)

Interestingly, after you’ve gotten a few voicemails, your online Google Voice inbox starts to look a lot like your Gmail inbox (see the image on the previous page). You can star important messages, search the text transcriptions for key words or names, and even dump unwanted voicemails from telemarketers into a spam folder. Indeed, the resemblance to Gmail is so strong that the day when you’ll be able to  view your Gmail messages and your Google Voice voicemails from the same interface can’t be very far off.

Google Voice has a bunch of other handy features: You can arrange free conference calls just by having multiple people call your Google Voice number at the same time; you can choose to have text messages sent to your Google Voice inbox forwarded to your phones, while at the same time keeping them organized in your inbox right alongside your voicemails; you can place international calls at extremely low rates by dialing into your Google Voice account first and punching in a code to tell it you want to make an outgoing call; the text transcriptions are cleverly shaded according to how confident Google’s speech-recognition algorithms are about its guesses (see image below); and you can record whole calls, or sections of calls, and save the recordings in your inbox. (This last feature may prove especially useful for us journalists. Alas, recorded calls aren’t automatically transcribed, at least not yet. Now that would be a huge plus for someone like me, who does several phone interviews a day.)

Google Voice voicemail transcriptionBut to me, the key advances in Google Voice—the reasons why it’s history-making—are only three. And only the first of these things came from Grand Central—Google added the other two.

1. It separates phone numbers from phones, making phone calls fungible and redirectable. This may even herald a day when everyone will be electronically reachable everywhere via some unique identifier like…their real name, maybe?

2. It transcribes voice messages into text and lets your receive and review that text from any device, which is an incredible time saver. And think of the value of having copies of all those voice mails you deleted and wished later you had saved. (Spinvox and other services already offer voicemail transcription, but for a fee.)

3. It treats voicemail recordings and transcriptions like e-mails, allowing you to manage them online using the same process you’ve developed to manage your e-mail inbox.

The rest is all bells and whistles. Indeed, a few of Google Voice’s extra features could prove troublesome. The recording feature may not be kosher in all states—Google leaves it up to you to figure out whether you can legally record a phone conversation (though the caller does get an automatic “call recording” warning if you choose the record option). And there’s a feature called “ListenIn,” a legacy of Grand Central’s technology, that brings back a whole world of awkwardness I thought we’d left behind when the old-fashioned answering machines were replaced by network-based voicemail. It’s a screening feature that lets you listen to someone as they’re recording a voicemail, then break in to talk to them if you wish. Undoubtedly, we’re in for a whole new generation of messages that start off, “Hey, I know you’re listening in and screening your calls, pick up, dammit!”

I’d love to hear about your own experiences with Google Voice. So if you won a free Google Voice account by being one of the first 100 readers to write in this morning, please come back later and let us know how things are going with the service. Just don’t call me. I wouldn’t want to have to declare voicemail bankruptcy.

For a full list of my columns, check out the World Wide Wade Archive. You can also subscribe to the column via RSS or e-mail.

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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32 responses to “Google Voice: It’s the End of the Phone As We Know It”

  1. David Walkush says:

    I would like to see if I can get a free Google voice accounts. Great article!

  2. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    @David: You can get a free account if you’re one of the first 100 people to write to us at [email protected]. See the details in the sixth paragraph of this story.

  3. I received a bounce back when sending a message from Gmail to [email protected]

    In any case, I am interested in an account.


  4. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    @Robert, Our apologies. There was a problem with the e-mail address we were using earlier. The correct address to request a free Google Voice account is [email protected].

  5. Lamberto Camacho says:

    When this goes Enterprise, it is going to put tons of companies in bad spots (VoIPs,, Ribbit, etc)… total game changer.

  6. Lamberto Camacho says:

    Just sent you guys an email… looking fwd to testing this out!

  7. I sent you guys an email, You’ve got to hook a Bostonian up!!


  8. Michael Coley says:

    Long time coming.. can’t wait to see the new Google Voice.

    Thanks for offering the GV accounts.

  9. Shaun graham says:

    Wow I didn’t think so many people replied :(. I guess I assumed I was in that group because of the 9 comments on the post. Better luck next time I guess!

  10. Shubham Harnal says:

    Really really want one! (Intend to make a blog about my experience w/ Google Voice on my Nokia N810 tablet)
    Thanks already!

  11. Josh says:

    I agree that GV is nothing short of amazing, and have been using my account to its fullest ever since the switch over from GrandCentral, but some other authors have raised issues concerning the privacy issues of GV.

    Read an analysis of the privacy concerns, as well as Google’s stance here:

  12. patrick says:

    I dont see that the 100 limit has been reached, lets hope there are some left :)

  13. Bill says:

    Will we here when the 100 have been given out? I requested one early and have not heard–I’m hoping that we hear either way. Thanks!

  14. Nick Eman says:

    ” We all thought e-mail was something we could only access and manage using desktop programs like Outlook, then along came Gmail.”

    What are you talking about? Yahoo, Hotmail, Excite, and others had web-based email YEARS before G-Mail showed up. Google wasn’t even around when Yahoo, Hotmail and Excite had web-based mail.

  15. Wade Roush says:

    @Bill: We posted an update at the top of the story around noon Friday, saying we’d given away all the free accounts. The winners will get confirmation from us as soon as we have confirmation that Google has opened their Google Voice accounts. I don’t know if we’ll be able to respond to the non-winners—there were so many.

    @Nick Eman: If you look at the next paragraph after the one you quote, I said Google didn’t invent Web-based mail, they just did it better than everyone else.

  16. Wade Roush says:

    Everyone, check out this insightful follow-on about Google Voice from Chuck Reynolds: “Home Phones, Google Voice, and Android”

  17. Wade,

    Grand Central and Google Voice have certainly made some improvements over traditional telephony, but that’s only part of the story. IP Telephony and Unified Communications technologies, coupled with multimodal mobile devices (smart-phones)are going to make even more mincemeat of the “dumb” telephones we are used to, and how “phone calls” will be initiated, received and responded to in the very near future.

    You need to look at what “federated presence” and “contextual” contact initiation will do for callers through Communications Enabled Business Processing (CEBP) and “click-to-contact”, in addition to what voice-to-text messaging transcription is doing for recipients. Say goodbye to the limitations of a TouchTone keypad in favor of creens, speech input and alphanumeric keyboards. This, in turn, will enable the use of meaningful name directories rather than meaningless phone numbers.

    It won’t happen overnight, but that’s where UC technology is heading and will swallow up “telephony, as we know it!”.

  18. Craig V says:

    Until Google Voice can handle an outbound call as well as inbound, it’s not going to take off with the masses. For example, when I get an SMS through Voice and respond on my cell phone, the reply comes from the cell number, not Voice. Likewise when I call someone from one of my phones, the Caller ID shows my actual phone, not the Voice number. These may seem like small things, but after having used (and liked) Grand Central for over a year now, I can say that this causes much confusion for people who call me and people who I call.

  19. John says:

    Works well so far, but there is a 1-2 ring delay before connecting to the mobile phone. Would like to see that snappier.

  20. @craig A point of clarification, when you receive an SMS from your Voice number, you can reply to that number and the SMS will be sent from your Voice number and not your cell number. This is a great feature. The only aspect that you cannot do is initiate a SMS conversation from your voice number without going to the mobile Google Voice website. I agree that GrandCentral had those drawbacks (which is why I didn’t use it as my main number) but Voice actually does a much better job at solving this and I expect it to only get better. See my article that Wade referenced above for more of my thoughts.

  21. Eric Logan says:

    Nice Write-up Any Invite left ?

  22. Jaime Navarro says:

    Love the article and so looking forward to using google voice as I have been tracking this for months, any invites left on the original 100?

  23. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    A few readers are still wondering whether we have any Google Voice accounts left to give out. Unfortunately the answer is no — we gave them all out quite quickly last Friday. But thanks for your interest. Hopefully it will only be a few weeks until Google opens up the service to everyone.

  24. Craig says:


    I am one of the lucky ones to receive a GV account. Thanks!

    I think it is great. The look and feel is very inline with an email inbox. I really like the ability to use “Block” (redirect to “Not in service”) and “Spam” (redirect to voice mailbox automatically) on incoming numbers. That has been useful already.

    The voice to text isn’t perfect. I tried leaving myself a message and the text was reasonably accurate. My kids (elementary age) left some reasonably clear messages on the phone and the text was quite inaccurate. Some work still to happen there. But it is great having the text coming to email when a voicemail is left.

    More later…

  25. Can someone please send me a google voice invite.

    [email protected]

  26. naz says:

    i dont get this