Google Voice Communications Tools

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Chances are you've heard or read about Google's phone management system Google Voice, but you're not really sure what it does. There's a good reason for this aura of mystery. Google Voice got its start as a phone service called GrandCentral, which the search giant bought in 2007. It's been in beta ever since -- but unlike other Google betas that are open to the general public, this one was limited to former GrandCentral users and a select group of industry elite.

But now Google is opening up the service to a limited number of new users, many of whom I'm sure will be as impressed as I am with Google Voice's power and elegance. Even better, Google Voice is free -- at least for now. It's likely that Google will need to monetize the service at some point, either via subscription fees, advertising, or some sort of newfangled revenue scheme. But for the lucky few using the service today, there's no charge.

The service is configured and maintained by the user in a web-based application, styled after Google's e-mail service, Gmail. Users must have an established US telephone service to activate Google Voice. Users must configure this and optionally, additional phone numbers that ring simultaneously when the Google Voice number receives a call. The user may answer and receive the call on any of the ringing phones. Google Voice provides additional features such as voicemail, call history, conference calling, call screening, blocking of unwanted calls, and voice transcription to text of voicemail messages.[4] Received calls may be moved between configured telephones during a call.

Google Voice provides a powerful suite of communications tools, including the ability to:
* Forward calls from your Google Voice number to one or more phones, or directly to voicemail. Based on who's calling, you can select which of your phones will ring.
* Receive text (SMS) alerts when you get a call.
* Transcribe voicemails, which Google Voice will send as email and/or text messages to your cell phone.
* Listen to voicemail messages as they're being recorded-a great throwback to the home answering achine.
* Screen callers by asking for and recording their names.
* Block annoying callers by playing a number-not-in-service recording when they call.
* Vary personalized greetings by caller.
* Record phone conversations and listen to them in your Google Voice inbox.
* Switch phones during a call.
* Use the free GOOG 411 service to say the name and location of a business, and have your call connected for free.
* Phone U.S. numbers for free.

Google Voice is not, however, the be-all and end-all of telephone services. It isn't a Voice over IP (VoIP) service like Skype or Vonage. You still need a standard phone connection (cellular or landline) to and from Google Voice. Nor is it fully integrated (yet) with the iPhone. As I write this, Apple does not allow Google Voice iPhone apps. There is however, a very good iPhone-optimized version of the Google Voice web application. Google's native Voice applications for Android and BlackBerry phones are very capable, and the federal government has expressed concern, so there is hope that Apple will approve a Google Voice iPhone app.

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