Google Voice Emerging as iPhone Challenger
News Analysis: Google Voice is in the news quite a bit lately, thanks to an Apple snub and an anti-iPhone rant. But it's the Google Voice features that pose the real long-term challenge to the iPhone. These features, such as ability to assign Google Voice numbers to all the handsets a user owns, may prove to be very enticing for business as well as personal use. Apple may not be able to keep Google Voice down simply by rejecting it for the Apple App Store.TechCrunch blogger Michael Arrington ignited some controversy recently when he said that he's ditching his iPhone for Google Voice, a VOIP solution from Google. A single Google Voice number can be added to every user's phones, making it possible for them to receive a call on all their handsets, rather than a single line. Domestic phone calls placed through Google Voice are free. Text messaging is free. Google Voice also features voicemail technology and the ability to transcript calls on the fly. It's a full-featured product that's currently available, by invite-only, on the Web, Android-based devices and BlackBerry smartphones.
Admittedly, there are limitations to Google Voice. Google requires users to buy a Google Voice phone number. Since that would require most organizations to gives clients a new number, it might turn some companies off to Google Voice. That said, numerous news outlets have reported that phone number portability is on its way. Soon, numbers currently in use on landlines or mobile phones will work with Google Voice.
Google Voice is also criticized for not displaying a Google Voice number on recipient phones. When calls are placed, the recipient sees the number of the device the person is calling from, rather than the person's Google Voice number. Google has addressed that issue. Many of the apps currently available on smartphones providing Google Voice support display the user's Google Voice number on outbound calls.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing Google Voice is that it's not available for the iPhone. The Google Voice iPhone app was rejected by Apple, which said its features were too similar to those already offered on the iPhone. That leaves millions of people without a Google Voice option. And it prompted many bloggers (including Arrington) to speak out against it.
As they spoke out, I quietly wondered if Google Voice is another option for the enterprise. Can it be the iPhone killer to beat them all?
Security and options
In a recent report from Black Hat, a popular hacker convention, Dr. Charlie Miller, a security expert, unveiled an expolit that could impact iPhone users. According to Miller, a simple SMS message could open a hole in the iPhone, providing malicious hackers with the opportunity to upload files, download code or create pivot attacks. It's a real concern. And for the security-conscious enterprise, it could make some companies think twice about the iPhone.
Realizing that, it's possible that those companies might turn to Google Voice instead. Calls are free, it can be downloaded onto smartphones already in-use by the company, and it can be used to ring phones at the office, at home or while on-the-go. It could signficantly reduce the number of missed calls and thus, missed business opportunities.
Google Voice also gives users the option to pick the product of their choosing. Since companies often enter into long-term contracts with carriers, they tend to stick with that carrier and the phones it offers. Whether they're working with Sprint, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile or even AT&T, organizations can install Google Voice on employee BlackBerry smartphones or Android-based devices. That's a powerful option, especially considering the BlackBerry's standing in the enterprise.
More than meets the eye
But Google Voice goes beyond the basics. It provides company employees with far more options than what's available to them now with the BlackBerry, T-Mobile G1 or even the iPhone.
Google Voice allows users to block individual callers. They can also decide which phones should ring when certain people call. So, if an important client is calling, maybe every phone that the employee uses will ring. But if a client that isn't so important calls, maybe it only rings at the office. For those in sales, Google Voice allows users to create individual greetings for different callers. A personalized message might mean the difference between getting the clients business and not. It's a simple feature, but it provides value to an operation.
Google Voice has a variety of other compelling features. From the ability to listen to people recording a voicemail message to having the option to view calls and voicemails from a Web Inbox, it's an extremely compelling service that's getting better by the day.
And if Google follows through on porting numbers to Google Voice, it could easily become a fine alternative to phone services that companies currently employ. It might not be perfect for the enterprise now, but with some minor improvements, it could be.
Apple might want to watch out.