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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Google Voice Desktop, please.

People rave about how accurate Google's search engines are, how innovative Google Wave and Gmail are, how useful Google Calendar and Google Docs are, but until lately, we have not really heard much about Google Voice. In my own opinion, Voice is Google's most innovative service. Other than Wave, it is the only product that attempts to change the way we look at and do everyday tasks. Sure, you can argue that Gmail's conversational view was revolutionary in the field of email, but it has not fundamentally changed how you do email. Google Voice, on the other hand, literally restructures how you use your phone. Instead of the usual direct phone-to-phone contact that usually takes place within a phone network, Google has abstracted your phone number, and put you behind their protective wall. Never before have you been able to check your voicemail online, archive your text messages, easily block specific phone numbers, route your number to different phones, or any other feature implemented by Google Voice.

It is this revolutionary aspect of Google Voice that makes it so appealing, at least to me. It is also why a petition has been started asking for the next step of Google Voice: desktop edition. Google acquired Gizmo5, a VoIP service, in November of last year. With the services Gizmo5 provides, Google could create a desktop edition of Google Voice, which would introduce functionality to place and receive calls from your computer, that is, without your phone. This is exciting, but when Google bought GrandCentral, it took about two years before Google Voice was launched as an early preview. We do not want to wait another two years for Google Voice Desktop, especially with Android on the rise and Google having an even greater presence in the mobile computing market than ever before.

So with this in mind, I plead for Google to work vigorously, and get Google Voice Desktop out quickly. Also, do not skimp on the features. The desktop app (and web app) should at least have:
  • Free or cheap placement of VoIP calls: Google Voice is free, let's keep with that trend. Skype may be popular, but paying for minutes in addition to the already high cell phone bills is not fun.
  • Text conversations: If I want to send a text to multiple people right now, it's as simple as entering in all their phone numbers. However, when it comes to replying, and making sure everybody knows what's going on in the conversation, not so much. We need an ability for text-based reply-to-all. For example, if Louis texts Tyler and Holden, and Tyler replies back, Google Voice should take the reply, show it to Louis, and then forward it on to Holden. Of course, there are many difficulties in this implication, such as if I do not want my reply automatically going to Holden, but there should be ways to handle this. 
  • Easy-to-use interface: This is a given. Conversational view, which is currently used for text conversations in Google Voice, should be retained in the desktop app.
  • Keyboard shortcuts: Speed dial was put into phones because it makes dialing frequently contacted phone numbers easy. I should be able to press some type of key combination and speed dial my important contacts.
  • Integration with everything: Nothing specific, just make sure to connect it with all of Google's other services. If somebody is not responding to my mass email, and I know they reply to texts faster, I want to have some sort of option to send that person a text reminder to check her email.
  • Instant messaging: This feature is not as important, but many users would be excited if some Digsby-like client was integrated with the desktop app, just as AIM has been integrated with Google Talk in Gmail.
  • Platform independence: I use Linux, enough said.
With Google Voice, Google Wave, and supposedly Google Me in their future, Google has a big opportunity to take action upon. They have a chance to change how people go about their everyday lives. Quite literally, the ability to intrinsically alter how we communicate with other people has been placed in Google's hands. We can only hope they execute it well and put the user first.

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