Google Voice may be a game changer.
Google recently renamed Grand Central to Google Voice and moved it out of beta. They acquired Grand Central some time ago, and since then the service accepted no new users and nothing changed as Google re-engineered the product to their specifications.
Somehow, probably a blog giveaway, I acquired a Grand Central account over a year ago. I used it for some outgoing calls, but never handed out its phone number. I was fearful what the service would eventually cost, so I didn't want to make it my primary contact phone number.
However the cost for US domestic calls looks like they are going to remain free. International calls are cheap with Canada costing about a penny a minute.
In a nutshell, Google Voice gives you a phone number of your own. I was able to pick one with the same prefix as cell phones commonly use in my region, so anyone I give the number to thinks it is my cell phone, and that is fine.
When some one calls for the first time, it asks them to record their name. Then it rings all my phones for me and says "Joe's calling." I have the option of taking the call, taking and recording the call or sending it to voice mail.
The Google Voice inbox shows me calls I have received and missed. If a call goes to voicemail, I see a transcription of the call. I was pleased how accurate the computer transcription is. And being Google, the transcription is searchable.
I can place calls out by choosing from the contact list. Google then calls me on the phone of my choice and then connects me to the contact. Those outgoing calls have my Google Voice number as the Caller ID.
The contact list is the same one I have in GMail and Google Calendar. And I understand it syncs with the address book on Android phones. I had been planning that our next family Smart Phones would be Android phones--this makes it more likely. December 2010 can't get here fast enough.
The Contact list exports its data so I have my phone numbers in case Google disappears (I lost data stored at sites when the late 90's bubble popped, so I am mindful of backing up what I keep in the Cloud). I exported my phone numbers from Sprint's online phonebook for my cell phone and imported them into Google's Contact list with no issues.
I can set up rules. Joe Friend can ring all my phones when he calls 24 hours a day. Irritating acquaintance who calls me at work can only reach me between 7 and 9 at night. If he calls and leaves a message other times I can read the transcription of the message (on the website, sent to me by email or by text message) and call him back when I wish.
I can control what phone each person rings, and the time of day they can reach me. And I can set everyone to Do Not Disturb and all calls go to voice mail while I take that nap.
If a caller is a telemarketer, I can tag their phone number and not only does the call not get answered they hear a "No such number" message in the future.
Prediction #1: Google will have a Phone Spam list as they now have a email spam list, and calls from numbers on that list will go to a Phone Spam folder just as spam emails go to their own Spam Folder.
You can also send and receive text messages from the Google Voice website, and through your phone. Text messages sent to your Google Voice number are sent on to your phone. When you respond, they appar to be from your Google Voice number.
Prediction #2 : Google will add eFax type fax send and receive to Google Voice. Faxes may be archaic, but are still used a lot in business.
One of the phones Google Voice can call is a softphone, Gizmo5. Gizmo is like Skype, it allows free PC to PC calls now, and inexpensive outgoing calls. You can buy an incoming phone line, but now with Google Voice there is no need.
Prediction #3: Google will either come out with their own softphone (probably by modifying Google Talk) or buy Skype. I'd prefer the latter.
Prediction #4: With a small tweak to their email servers, Google could make it so that any email to [my phone number]@gmail.com enters my GMail inbox.
Think of it, one 10 digit identifier will let someone send me email, fax, text message, and voice call. They won't have to remember an email address, a fax number, and a variety of phone numbers for me, just one.
Prediction #5 : The Google Voice website and and the GMail website will merge, and we will finally have the global inbox.
Imagine, all your emails, voice mails, text messages, faxes listed in one place, no matter if you placed the call from your home phone, your cell phone, your work phone, a friend's phone, whatever.
Heck, take it one step further, make it so that www.5555551212.google.com re-directs to whatever website the user with the phone numer 555-555-1212 has specified in their Google My Account settings.
Imagine how uncluttered business cards will look when they have just your name and a Google identifier?
There have been services like Google Voice as it is now, before, but game changers are not necessarily first. The IBM PC wasn't the first computer, and the IPod was not the first MP3 player, but both changed the world.
It will be interesting to see how younger consumers use Google Voice. Text messaging and IM have changed the landscape of relationships for the young. How will this?
And if you are a parent who refused to give your child a cell phone, and expect them to use your home phone, but give them broadband, they now, suffice to say, have a phone.
Google Voice will be rolling out to those outside the Grand Central beta list eventually. Grab a number when you can.
And someone remind me, why do I pay $40 a month for a landline?
Hey, just as I finished this, Google, via their Twitter account @GoogleVoice said this : "We're checking our (408) 72-VOICE invite hotline for funny vmail msgs, and sending out more invites next week to a select few!"