The latest in Google’s quest for world domination is a product called Google Voice. As with most of Google’s offerings, it’s free and solves a problem most people don’t even know they have.
Most of us have at least two phone numbers—a home phone and a cell phone. Some of us have a few work numbers, a second cell phone, and several lines at home. If your mother doesn’t know where you are and needs to say hello at that very instant, she can dial your Google Voice number, which in turn will ring each and every one of your phones at the same time.
If you’re in a meeting with only your iPhone, and silence mother’s call, she can leave you a voice message at your Google Voice mailbox. Since you’re in a meeting, but want to know what Mom called about, you can use your iPhone or laptop to check that voice mail. Sure, the voice message will be relayed to you as a sound file, but Google Voice goes one step further by actually transcribing the message. We can’t listen to voice messages in meetings, but we sure can check our email! Don’t want your voicemail delivered to your email? Have it transcribed and sent as an SMS message instead.
Of course, speech to text is tricky stuff. By far the best product I’ve used is MacSpeech’s Dictate software. I saw demonstrations of this in the middle of the Moscone Center at Macworld last year, and was amazed at the accuracy even amidst the loud bustle of a convention hall floor. However, it does require some significant training time (that is, you must train the software with your voice, and correct its mistakes for it to get better). Google’s speech-to-text technology has a low quality phone stream to work with, but requires no initial training, only correction to make it better.
I’d hate to be a big telecom firm in Google’s way, because Google Voice offers completely free domestic calling, with no annual or hidden fees whatsoever. International calls are mostly a few cents per minute.
The only downside is that Google Voice is available only to the members of a service once called Grand Central while it is in its earliest phase. Soon, though, it will be open to the public–with an invitation system similar to that used in the Gmail introduction.
Image credit: en.wikimedia.org