Monday, November 23, 2009

New Piece of the Google Voice Puzzle

Today I discovered some news that's pretty interesting... if not brand new, only a few weeks old. I've been using Google Voice for some time now (ever since it was GrandCentral before Google purchased it), and I've known for a long time that it supported something called "Gizmo." I looked into Gizmo a while back to see what it was, and it's a voice-over-IP (VoIP) system, much like Skype. At the time I didn't have a headset anyway so there was no way for me to make a Gizmo call, so I didn't look into it further at the time.

A few days ago I was given a headset for use on WebEx conferences at work, and today I took a look at the Gizmo Web site to see if I might want to start using Gizmo in conjunction with my Google Voice account. Turns out there might be no need... new user account activation has been suspended, because Gizmo has been bought by... wait for it... Google! Take a look at the blog post about the acquisition.

There's a lot of speculation about what Google is up to, and by much more plugged-in people than I, but here's what I know:

July 2005: Google buys Android, a company that made software for mobile phones.
July 2007: Google buys GrandCentral. Eventually they re-brand it as "Google Voice" and add some new features.
October 2008: Google Android cell phone operating system is released as open-source software.
October 2008-present: Android-based phones begin to filter out into the market; a big marketing push for the "Droid" Android phone happens just before the holiday season (have you seen Verizon's demo?). Some see it as the first serious contender for the iPhone.
Mid-2009: rumors begin to circulate about a "Google Phone" (Android phone with Google branding, with hardware specifications by Google and with no customizations to Android.)
November 2009: Google buys Gizmo.

(I will have to note right here why I'm mentioning Android. Part of the lure of Google Voice is that you can use it with multiple phones, but the way it does this is that when you tell Google Voice to place a call, it first calls you and then when you answer, it calls the other party. Not a problem, but not the way phones usually work, either, or at least not since the days when you called a human operator and she called you back when your party was available! On Android phones, it is possible to fully integrate Google Voice into the phone's OS, so that when you dial a number on the phone, it seamlessly uses Google Voice. No callback to you at all! So if you use Google Voice, having an Android phone is very much to your advantage.)

You would have to be completely dense to not see all of these things coming together. Google is clearly serious about this telephony thing. I've been wondering why Google hasn't been introducing any new features in Google Voice lately, despite the fact that they have a "suggestion box"-style form on the Google Voice site; clearly they've been holding off because they expected to incorporate some cool Gizmo tech later on and avoid re-inventing the wheel. So presumably as soon as Google feels comfortable that the Gizmo architecture can handle the number of new users they will be throwing at it, the Gizmo features will be incorporated into the Google Talk client (which already does PC-to-PC calling... and which uses the same XMPP protocol for chat as the Gizmo software does) and Google "Talk" and Google "Voice" will (finally?) merge into one uber-service (this might also explain why Google Voice and Google Talk have remained separate for so long up to this point). Add in the reported Google Phone hardware, and you've got a pretty full-blown telephony system going on here. Look out, AT&T! Look out, Verizon and Sprint! Google may be coming to town, and they may take a bite out of your apple!

Update: I figured out a way to get to the Gizmo Knowledgebase, and learned something else that I find interesting. Not only can the Gizmo software chat with MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, and AOL Instant Messenger (and Google Talk), but it can actually place VoIP calls to contacts on those services! So if Google incorporates that tech into Google Talk, GT may well become the first of the "official" IM clients that can talk to just about anyone who uses instant messaging. The only thing Gizmo doesn't support on those calls is the video portion of the equation. I so wish I had signed up for Gizmo before they closed it up for new users! Maybe current Google Voice users will get first crack at it once they open things back up.

[Full disclosure (of irony): Blogger (the service on which this blog resides) is owned by Google. I don't work for Google, and I'm not shilling for them. I just thought it was funny that I was talking about this on their own blogging platform. Acquired in 2003. No, I don't see Blogger as part of the telephony picture. :) ]

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