Google's new Gmail phone-calling service racked up 1 million calls from users in its first 24 hours of release. Gmail calling potentially challenges Skype and Facebook.
Skype and Facebook could have a substantial new competitor
on their hands, if Google's new Gmail phone-calling service keeps attracting a
substantial number of users.
"Over 1,000,000 calls placed from Gmail in just 24 hours!
Thanks to everyone using this new feature," read an Aug. 27 note on
Google's official Twitter feed
The Gmail application requires Google's voice and video
plug-in, which can be downloaded
. Upon activation, Gmail users can click a "Call Phone" tab, opening a
window with a virtual keypad. Those with a Google Voice phone number will find
their Gmail calls display that number as their outbound caller ID.
"We're rolling out this feature to U.S.-based Gmail users
over the next few days," Robin Schriebman, a Google software engineer, wrote
in an Aug. 25 posting on the Official Google 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."
By the evening of Aug. 26, the "Call Phone" tab seemed to be
appearing on more and more Gmail accounts. Via the service, calls to certain
countries-including landlines in France and Britain-will cost 2 cents per
minute. On the high end of the scale, a call to Cuba will cost 98 cents. A
complete list of rates can be
Gmail's phone success would present a significant challenge
to Skype at a moment when the latter company is preparing its IPO. Although
Skype's base of paying customers is relatively small, and financial margins
narrow, the company's 560 million registered users also make it a formidable
contender to any upstarts. Despite that, Google's built-in brand
recognition-not to mention Gmail's free calls to landlines in the United States and
Canada, something not offered by Skype-could allow it to rapidly build market share.
However, Google has also remained quiet about when it
intends to expand the service to other countries. "We don't have anything to
announce about an international rollout today," a Google spokesperson told
eWEEK Aug. 26, "but we're looking forward to bringing localized versions to
more people in the future."
Other analysts see Google's latest application as a play
"We assume Google's ulterior motive is less about disrupting
the telecommunications industry (it will still pay termination fees to telcos)
and more about driving engagement within Gmail and its social networking
activities, to better compete with social networks such as Facebook," Goldman
Sachs analyst James Mitchell wrote in an Aug. 26 research note, as
reprinted on Fortune's Website
If Google is indeed angling to make Gmail more of a one-stop
social hub, trust that Facebook-along with Skype and any other social-networking
and communications companies-are already preparing their response.