Google's new Gmail phone-calling service presents a challenge to Skype, as well as Gmail's e-mail competitors. Google has been making aggressive plays in the VOIP market.
Google is rolling out a service that makes phone calls through Gmail. Calls
to the United States
and Canada will
be free through at least January 2011, with international calls ranging
between 2 cents and nearly $5 a minute. That presents a challenge not only
to Google's e-mail competitors, but also Skype.
"We're rolling out this feature to U.S. based Gmail users over the next
few days, so you'll be ready to get started once 'Call Phones' shows up in your
chat list," Robin Schriebman, a Google software engineer, wrote
in an Aug. 25 posting on the Official Gmail Blog
. "If you're using
Google Apps for your school or business, then you won't see it quite yet. We're
working on making this available more broadly-so stay tuned."
Once the feature is active, clicking "Call Phone" on Gmail's chart
list will open a window with a virtual keypad. From there, users can either
enter a number or a contact's name. Those wanting to use the service will need
to install Google's voice and video plug-in, which can be found here
Calls to certain countries, including landlines in France
will cost 2 cents per minute. That represents the low end of the price scale.
On the high end, calls to Cuba
will run you 98 cents. A
complete list of rates
can be found here.
"If you have a Google Voice phone number, calls made from Gmail will display
this number as the outbound caller ID," Schriebman wrote. "And if you
decide to, you can receive calls made to this number right inside Gmail." Instructions
to that effect
can be found here.
Google's other recent improvements to Gmail include Google Calendar Sync
that supports Outlook 2010, an updated and streamlined layout, and
additions to Gmail Contacts such as keyboard shortcuts and custom labels
Apps Search, available through Google's Gmail Labs, allows
users to sift through Google Docs and Google Sites
Gmail's rapid feature-adding could be a symptom of Google's rising
competition with Yahoo and Microsoft for e-mail users. Although Gmail has
managed to build substantial business off its sizable in-box and rapid-search
features, its rivals have been working to level the playing field: on May 18,
for example, Microsoft
announced updates to Windows Live Hotmail that included clutter-elimination and
Google has made additional plays in the VOIP market, including its
May 18 agreement to purchase Global IP Solutions (GIPS)
, which makes
software for processing high-definition audio and video over the Web, for $68.2
million. Along with phone calling from Gmail, Google Voice and its 2009
acquisition of Gizmo5, that puts Google in a stronger position to compete
against Skype and its 400 million users.