Tag Archives | VoIP

RingCentral: It’s Like Google Voice for the iPhone!

Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt points out that Apple long ago approved an iPhone app that’s very much like Google Voice and presents all the issues that it says it doesn’t like about that application: RingCentral.

The app is called RingCentral Mobile and not only does it perform most of the same functions as the Google (GOOG) app that’s making all the headlines — universal telephone number, voicemail, dial-by-name directory, click-to-call, call forwarding, answering rules, call screening, music on hold, etc. — it was the template on which both Google Voice, and its predecessor, GrandCentral, were built.

As Elmer-DeWitt says, it’s hard to imagine that Google Voice being a Google product didn’t play a part in Apple’s unwillingness to approve it in a prompt fashion. (RingCentral’s from a venerable but small company.) And we already knew that one of the most significant issues with the App Store approval process is that it’s deeply inconsistent.


Google Releases Google Voice App for BlackBerry and Android. Now Let’s Hope It Releases Google Voice.

Google Voice LogoGoogle Voice just got more useful for BlackBerry and Android users: Google has released apps for both platforms that provide access to the service’s features. Sounds like the most significant aspect is that they make dialing outgoing calls using your Google Voice number a whole lot easier. (If you use your phone’s “real” number to call folks, they can use Caller ID to see the number and may add it to their address books, thereby making it a lot tougher to train the world to use your Google Voice number as your only phone number.)

Here’s a video from Google explaining the new apps:

iPhone users (like me) don’t have an app yet–we can access Google Voice from Safari, but only via a pretty basic interface. But over at TechCrunch, Michael Arrington says that Google Voice’s Craig Walker told him that an iPhone app is in the works. Once it arrives,  I can try being All Google Voice, All the Time. (For business calls, that is–I’ll bet I’m not the only proprietor of a very small business who uses my phone-company phone number for personal calls, and my Google Voice number for work stuff.)

The most important remaining question about Google Voice remains the same: WHEN IS GOOGLE PLANNING TO OPEN UP THE SERVICE TO ANYONE AND EVERYONE WHO’D LIKE TO USE IT?!? Google still isn’t saying. But the fact that it’s rolling out these apps and steadily letting folks who requested invites months ago in is a good sign that the rest of world won’t have to wait forever. I hope. (I can’t think of another Web service that’s had such a high profile and received so many upgrades while remaining available only to a smalllish group of users.)


Google Voice Starts to Open Up

Google VoiceBetas of Google services are legion, but Google Voice‘s beta has gotta be one of the most suspenseful of them all: In the two years since Google bought the service formerly known as GrandCentral, it’s restricted access to folks who were using GrandCentral at the time of the acquisition.

It has, however, allowed interested parties (of whom there are scads) to get on a waiting list for invitations–and today it announced that it’s beginning to let in new users who have requested invite codes. That’s great news, since Google Voice is among Google’s coolest services, and it rates extemely high on the “I can’t believe they’re providing this for free” meter. (I’m lucky enough to have signed up during the brief period when GrandCentral was in an entirely public beta.)

The service does so many phone-related things that it’s hard to explain briefly, so I’ll embed Google’s own explanatory video:’

Google still isn’t opening up the floodgates by simply allowing anyone to show up at Google voice, register, and immediately begin using it, and today’s announcement doesn’t address when that might happen. Given that the service must be among the company’s more demanding ones from a scalability standpoint–and involves a somewhat scarce resource in the form of the phone numbers that are doled out–it may be a while before Voice is easily available to everyone who’d like to try it. I’ll choose to look on the bright side and be impressed by the patience Google is showing in keeping the service semi-private until it’s absolutely, positively sure it’s ready for prime time.

Google also doesn’t seem to be saying how quickly it’ll release those invites. If you applied for one, let us know if you have (or haven’t) been ushered in…and what you think of the service.


Google Voice for Any Phone Number?

Google VoiceOver at TechCrunch, Michael Arrington has reported the intriguing tidbit that Google is working on letting users of its Google Voice phone service use phone-number portability to transfer their number from whatever carrier they’re using to Google Voice. In both its original form as GrandCentral and still-in-private-beta relaunch as Google Voice, the service has made you sign up for a new phone number. That’s not a dealbreaker–if you’ve ever called Technologizer’s business number, you’ve dialed a Google Voice number–but a lot of folks would be much more likely to try Google Voice if they didn’t have to inform the world that their phone number had changed. And the service’s help system appears to confirm TechCrunch’s report.

Using existing phone numbers with Google Voice-like services isn’t a new idea–for instance, SkyDeck and Grasshopper, both of which overlap with Google Voice’s features, already let you do it. But Google Voice is the most comprehensive service of this sort: It can ring multiple phones at once, it turns your voicemail into text and lets you get it over the Web or via SMS, it lets you screen and record calls, and a whole lot more. And everything’s free except for international calls (which are cheap). All in all, it’s pretty spectacular.

Arrington also says that Google is working on a way to make Google Voice users’ calls show up on recipients’ Caller ID as the Google Voice number, rather than the primary phone number associated with the phone that made the call. That would solve another fairly significant problem with Google Voice, which is that it’s tough to hide the fact that Google Voice numbers are virtual, and that you’ve still got a real (if in many ways less useful) phone number that you can be reached at.

Of course, the one Google Voice feature that most people are most curious about is a simple one: general availability. Except for a brief period a long time ago when GrandCentral let anybody sign up, the service has been stuck in one of longest private betas I can remember. If the day comes–soon, I hope–when Google lets anyone sign up for Google Voice for free, I’m betting that it’ll prompt one of the most intense mad rushes of new users into a Google service to date.


Do You Still Have a Landline?

Ars Technica has reported on a National Center for Health Statistics survey that shows the percentage of respondents who have only a cell phone surpassing that of ones who have only a landline for the first time. Slightly over twenty percent of those surveyed aren’t bothering with a landline these days–a fact which one of the NCHS report’s authors reasonably asserts is in part because of the economic state we find ourselves in. If your cell phone gives you decent sound quality, free long distance, and lots of minutes for a reasonable price, paying for it and a landline may sound pointlessly redundant these days.

(Me, I still have a landline–a Comcast VoIP one, to be precise–but I’ve made a grand total of three calls on it in the nine months or so I’ve had it. I keep it for use as a fax line and because I occasionally guest on radio programs whose producers are happiest if I’m not on my cell. But I use my cell most of the time, and Skype as a backup, and if I’m still paying $40 a month for a landline I almost never use a year from now, I’ll be startled.)

How about you?

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GrandCentral: It Lives!

Google VoiceEver since it was acquired by Google back in mid-2007, the interesting and useful phone service GrandCentral has been in the news for only two reasons: service glitches and skepticism over whether the service, which has been in closed, largely unchanging beta since the acquisition, would ever show any signs of life. Tonight, at long last, there’s good news: GrandCentral is relaunching tomorrow, under a new name that sounds like it was probably inevitable: Google Voice.

Over at TechCrunch, Leena Rao has posted an upbeat preview of the new version, reporting that Google Voice will keep existing GrandCentral features such as the ability to ring all your phones at once so you never miss a call you want to take, and to screen your calls so you never take a call you want to miss. It will also add the ability to receive text messages, and a text-to-speech feature that lets you get your voicemail as e-mail.

Leena also talks about Google Voice providing cheap international calls and conference calls, which suggests that it’s becoming a service for outgoing calls as well as incoming ones, at least to some degree. Currently, a GrandCentral number is really only half a phone number, since it’s for incoming calls only–and there are usability issues in the fact that when you make outgoing calls, the folks you call see your “real” phone number and may add it to their address books, thereby making it hard to train them to call you on your more powerful GrandCentral number.

The TechCrunch report says that a beta for current GrandCentral users launches tomorrow. (I’ll jump on it as soon as it’s available and let you know what I think–if you’ve ever called me at Technologizer’s business number, you’ve dialed my GrandCentral number.) The beta will be closed at first, but Google will begin to let more people in during the coming weeks.

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MagicJack: The Aftermath

Steve Bass's TechBiteOh, my, but you’re a vocal bunch. When you like something, you tell me. Ditto for when you don’t. If you’re new here, read magicJack: The No-Brainer Money Saver.

Here are some responses that landed to my inbox–and a few of my comments.

* Some of you couldn’t believe I had a perfect, landline-quality connection with magicJack. That’s not quite what I said. When it works well, I said, it’s terrific. At times, though, I’ll make a call and the voice quality is dreadful — snapping, popping, and crackling. So I redial. Since I started using MJ, about 75 percent of the time I get good calls on the first try; 25 percent of the time I have to redial. And yes, bad connections and redials are annoying. But in this economy, so was paying AT&T over $300 a year for my extra landline. Now my yearly cost is $20.

* As with all things technological, kids, everyone’s mileage varies. Bad connections could be because of your ISP’s lopsided tubes, your kids downloading music on a networked PC, or the USB 1.0 ports on your ‘486.

* MagicJack doesn’t like Canada as well as it does in the United States. That’s obvious because magicJack doesn’t carry any Canadian phone numbers. Using magicJack in Canada means you’re stuck registering it with a U.S. phone number, and your Canadian buddies have to call the U.S. number. But you folks have great medical care, and very few paparazzi, so I guess it’s a trade, eh?

* I had a dozen messages wondering if magicJack steals passwords, sends spam, or kidnaps children. The most notorious of these accusations — read it on BoingBoing— is a year old. It’s all been proven false. Bob Rankin, a trustworthy journalist, wrote about it in his “Magic Jack – Good or Evil?” series: part 1 and part 2.

* In this corner are the lovers of Skype— and there are lots of you. Funny thing, I use Skype to speak to my Web designer in Singapore for free. But I don’t use Skype often because I already have a headset for my phone; I don’t like needing another one– a USB headset — just for Skype. (That may change: I’m testing Jabra’s GN9350e, a cool-sounding, dual connection wireless headset that lets me swap between the PC and my landline. I’ll keep you posted.)

[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]


MagicJack: The No-Brainer Money Saver

Steve Bass's TechBiteI just saved $320 by cancelling an extra phone line and signing up with magicJack. It works as advertised; I like it; and it’s a keeper. I also have tips to make magicJack better, and if you’re intrigued, hack into it. (Fair warning: My magicJack review is long, way more than I usually allocate for one newsletter.)

Making the Switch to magicJack

I used to have three phone lines, and for years I needed all of them. But with almost all of my communication through e-mail, I decided to dump one and replace it with a magicJack. And save myself about $320 a year.

You plug the magicJack into a free USB port, then plug your phone line into the gizmo. Now you can make free calls with VoIP — they’re routed through the Internet. (The magicJack comes with a 6-inch USB extension cable in case it interferes with other devices plugged into your USB ports.)

Plug one end into a USB port and connect the other end to your standard phone.

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Grumbling About GrandCentral

GrandCentralLike me, WebWorkerDaily’s Judi Sohn uses Google’s GrandCentral phone service, which sports an array of fancy tricks like auto-forwarding to multiple numbers at once. When Judi logged in this morning, she found her browser telling her that GrandCentral’s SSL security certificate had expired. She uses that as a springboard to fret about the future of GrandCentral in general: It’s been in closed-beta limbo for eons, and Google shows no signs of readying it for general release. She ends with the ultimate vote of no confidence: a request that Google shut down GrandCentral and help people transfer their phone numbers elsewhere.

I didn’t have the certificate problem myself, but I’ve wondered what the heck is going on with GrandCentral in these quarters before. Confession: Despite the fact that GrandCentral is beta, I use a GrandCentral number as Technologizer’s main business phone number. For the most part, I’m happy with it. But  Judi’s skepticism that GrandCentral will ever emerge from beta has me paranoid that it may go away, and that I’ll be sorry I handed out all those business cards with a GrandCentral number on them.

If nothing else, I should probably be worried about the fact that GrandCentral’s home page no longer trumpets the slogan “One Number…for Life” (here’s what the tagline looked like back when it was there, plus some additional promises about the service’s permanence):

One Number For Life

I guess “One Number…Until Google Decides to Direct Its Attention Elsewhere and Quietly Shutters the Service” doesn’t have the same ring to it…

To be clear, Google hasn’t said that GrandCentral is at risk. Actually, it hasn’t said much of anything about the service since it acquired it. It’s conceivable that it’ll add new features and/or take it out of beta any day now. And I’ll choose to take it as a good sign that it wasn’t among the services that Google did kill or scale back a couple of weeks ago.

For now, I’m still using and liking GrandCentral, and I’m certainly not willing to join Judi Sohn’s call for Google to euthanize it. An encouraging word or two from Google would be nice, though–especially if the gist was “we’re investing in GrandCentral and intend to roll it out to all comers as soon as we think it’s ready.”