Next step for the Google juggernaut: revolutionizing the way Americans use the telephone.
Although the service is not yet widely available, today Google announced details of its long-awaited Google Voice program, which introduces an array of free features, from voice-mail transcripts to call conferencing and call blocking. Most important, Google Voice allows each user to create a single phone number for all his or her phones – a service especially attractive to those folks still juggling a work phone, a cell phone, and a home phone.
Beginning today, users can sign up for an invitation for a Voice account. Once the invitation arrives, you'll be able to use a "number picker" to find digits that contain your name, a specific word, or a favorite number combination.
A history lesson
If you missed out on all the hype, here's a condensed history of Google Voice. In 2007, Google acquired GrandCentral, an Internet company created to link up different phone numbers under one single set of digits. Then a couple of months ago, Google Voice launched a closed testing period for an audience of GrandCentral users. They tacked on a few of their own features: a transcription service for voice mail, and free text messaging.
According to Ars Technica, which was part of the closed beta program, Google Voice is "remarkably powerful and easy to use. It has a number of killer features, such as support for switching between lines during the middle of a call and recording incoming calls by simply pressing a button. Recorded calls and voicemails can be heard directly in the browser through a streaming playback interface and can also be downloaded as MP3 files."