Well 24 hours after me Google Voice review, I found some additional information which adds some VERY cool features to Google Voice.
First, I went-a-Googlen’ and I found a help article inside of Google knowledge base that completely addressed my second suggestion: “Cell Phone Voice Mail integration”. Basically this article (and the comments there in) allowed me to setup my iPhone to use Google Voice as my Voicemail provider. So I am no longer using AT&T Visual Voicemail feature. While checking my voicemail is now less seamless, having the machine transcription emailed to my iphone I think more than balances it out.
Here’s the address: http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/voice/thread?tid=00a93855af6943b4&hl=en
Next, I completely forgot to address the Text Messaging/SMS feature of Google Voice.
This feature actually saved me a few weeks ago. Our weekly Rotary Meeting is held in the basement of the Cumberland Mountain State Park Lodge. As I am the secretarial officer of the club, my job is to get there early, setup, take attendance, and clean up afterwards. Well, shortly after I arrived at the meeting location, I realized that I had forgot to SMS a colleague a list of things he need to bring to the meeting. For AT&T users the park lodge (like much of the US) is a dead zone for service. Rather than spending several minutes wandering around outside looking for signal, I simply hopped on the parks Internet and used Google Voice to SMS my list out. I even exchanged a few additional message to clarify the things I needed.
I’ve recently written about my feelings regarding SMS and billing practices of the Cell Phone Industry (they stink). So anything that usurps an unfair Cell Phone Company is a good thing in my book, and Google Voice Does just that.
There are some technical limitations however that I feel will prevent Google Voices SMS system from gaining much ground on traditional SMS. Google Voice’s SMS is not “real” SMS as defended by the GSM and digital mobile phone specifications. Google Voice’s SMS is more like AOL or Yahoo Instant Messaging with a conduit to the Mobile Phone Network. Incidentally, most Internet IM services already have a conduit system that allows for free sending and receiving from an IM client to a Mobile Phone. Well, free for the IM user, not the Mobile User.
In a very real way, to use Google Voice’s SMS system requires a change in behavior for the user that I think most will not be willing to do. Right now, SMS comes to your cell phone without a user having to proactively do anything to get that message. I send a message to you, your phone alerts you to let you know you have a message from me. With Google Voice, to receive an SMS the recipient must “check” his or her Google Voice account to see if there are any new messages. This is a small but stark behavior change. People use the SMS system on mobile phones because there is a perception that one can send a quick message to someone else, and there is an expectation that the message will be delivered (and read) within a short period of time. Requiring a recipient to proactively “check” for new messages removes that sense of immediacy from the SMS process. If the sense of immediacy is removed, then the sender of a message would be better of composing an email to the recipient. An email would have the same requirement of the recipient proactively “checking” for the message, but not have the limitation of traditional SMS such as a maximum of 160 charters per cost unit and no ability to send images.
To overcome this behavior change requirement Google Voice SMS would have to do one of two things. One, have an application that ran on a phone to actively check for new messages and alert the user. This of course would mean that Google would have to create a view swath of software to run and a variety of Smart Phones, and that does not take into account that MOST cell phones in the market today are not capable of installing and running Third Party software. Two, use a traditional alert mechanism, like Cell Phone Company SMS, to alert the user that they have a new Google Voice SMS. This of course is self defeating, why pay for a Cell Phone Company SMS to get a free Google Voice SMS?
Ultimately I fear that no matter how much I admire Google sticking it to the Cell Phone Companies, Google Voice SMS is to-little to-late. All Smart Phones and most Dump Phones (called “Feature” Phones to make them more sellable) already allow for automatic checking of traditional email and some IM services without the user having to proactively think to stop and run a program on his or her phone. I’ve been getting email almost instantly on my cell phones going all the way back to 1998, 4 years before BlackBerry made checking your email while out of the office chic. (It amazes me that people still think that BlackBerrys are the only way to do that.) As more people become used to the ideal of “instant email everywhere” the notion of having a separate SMS system becomes obsolete and redundant. We have been at that point technologically for many years, it will just take a while to catch up to it socially.
In that light Google Voice’s SMS features are a genital bridge to a time when SMS will no longer be necessary. Having Google forward SMS messages your Cell Phone is a way to still receive legacy messages from those who have not yet embraced mobile email. Sending SMS out of Google Voice is a Free way to side step Cell Phone Companies charges when you need to textually communicate with a luddite. But in the end, with all the “extra” steps one must do to send or receive SMS with Google Voice, it’s simpler to just use mobile email, or just place a voice call, unless SMS is your only option.
I do wish that Google would pass on those SMS messages to me as email rather than as a Cell Phone Company SMS messages.