I don’t like phones. At all. For a number of different reasons. I don’t like them for both social and technological reasons. Socially, I’m a fan of asynchronous communication. I like having my communication go to into an inbox where I can decide when I want to deal with it and how. Phones make me immediately respond to an incoming call often disrupting whatever it is I am doing at the time. For about a year since I came to the US I didn’t have a cell phone and I was quite happy about it. I do have a phone now, but I only give my number out to friends so that we can coordinate simple things like meal times. I prefer email or face to face meetings for anything that is more important.
Technologically I think phone services just suck. I hate voicemail because it takes a lot of time and pushing buttons to get to the message I want. It’s even worse if I use voicemail for my landline because then I completely forget to check voicemail for weeks at a time, often with uncomfortable results. If I could stop using phones completely, I would be very happy.
Given my dislike of phones, I was very interested by Google’s growing offensive against the phone companies. It started with Google acquiring GrandCentral and turning it into Google Voice. It’s a very interesting service that positions itself between you and any actual phone service you might have. You get a Google Voice number and distribute to that to all your friends and family. Then based on who is calling or when, Google Voice can route the call to a physical phone that you specify. What’s even more interesting is that it gives you a unified voicemail and contacts service and a really nice Web interface that lets you handle voicemail like email and do cool things like automated transcription.
Even if this was all that Google Voice did, it would be great. For a while I considered getting a Skype number and using that with Voice to do all telephony over my computer, using my cell phone only when I was out and about and absolutely needed to take a call. And since I can also use Google Voice with an existing number, I could have tied the landline in my dorm room to it if I really wanted to. However recent developments have put that plan on hold.
First, Google also bought Gizmo5, a VoIP service similar to Skype. Secondly, it seems like they will be releasing unlocked Android phones that users can pair with any service provider. Putting all these together, let’s see if we can come up with a Google-centric phone strategy. First off you get a Google Voice number like you would now. But in addition to using your real physical phones, you can also tied it to your Google-ified Gizmo5 VoIP account (which I think will become part and parcel of Voice). Now whenever you are at a computer, people you know can call a phone number, but you can answer on your computer. If you’re someone on the move, you get an unlocked phone from Google with a data plan and a minimal calling plan. You then have the option of actually using your service minutes through Voice, or using the Gizmo5 VoIP (which I assume will be released soon) and using only the data service. And if you’re in a Wifi area, you can just go over Wifi and save even more.
Now, this isn’t say that this is exactly what they’ll do, but it is what seems most obvious. I really hope they do come out with something like this and soon. The unlocked Google phones are supposed to be out in January 2010 and I wouldn’t be surprised if a revamped Gizmo5/Google Voice combo was announced at the same time.
I’m still really tempted to get a Skype number and pair it with a Voice account. In fact, if Gizmo5 isn’t reopened by the time I get back to school in late January, I will go ahead and do that. The good thing is that since I’ll have a Google Voice “frontend” I can move to whatever new thing Google comes out with without having to care about giving people new numbers. And that is why Google Voice is so awesome !