Waiting for GrandCentral

I've been waiting with baited breath all week for Google to upgrade my GrandCentral account to the rebranded Google Voice service. Hopefully with this upgrade, GrandCentral will finally be usable given my particular set of needs and devices - only a full year after I first tried putting the service to work.

I've been waiting with baited breath all week for Google to upgrade my GrandCentral account to the rebranded Google Voice service. Hopefully with this upgrade, GrandCentral will finally be usable given my particular set of needs and devices - only a full year after I first tried putting the service to work.

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I joined GrandCentral late in 2007, after I received an invite to the private beta from my colleague Jason Brooks, but I didn't start using the service in earnest until February of last year. At that time, I wanted to provide my GrandCentral number to the vendors and analysts with whom I would meet at the 2008 CTIA show in Las Vegas. I don't have a work-issued cell phone, and I was somewhat loathe to give my personal number out for work purposes, yet I wanted to be available to them in case of schedule changes or what not.

GrandCentral seemed like the perfect solution - vendors could call that number and reach me wherever I was - at home, on the road, in the lab or at my desk. Or they could leave a message in a central voice mail box that I could get from any laptop or smartphone.

As is often the case at trade shows, coverage was spotty and GrandCentral quickly failed me. If the service rang through to my cell phone rang, I received the call as expected. But if I missed the call, I discovered that I could not access the Web page from my iPhone, as the Web page required Flash to see voice mails. Nor could I download the audio files to my iPhone, as Apple didn't support file downloading at that time (the downloading way did work on a Windows Mobile phone, for instance).

I missed a lot of calls at that show.

I kept trying to use GrandCentral in the same capacity over the next several months, but it never really worked as I wanted. I wanted to use my GrandCentral number as the outbound caller ID on SkypeOut calls, but the lack of SMS support thwarted my efforts to authorize the number to Skype. As time went on, I found I only used GrandCentral for outbound calling - using the iPhone's GrandDialer application to trigger an outbound long-distance call that would ring through to my home phone (which would not be necessary if I could get more than two bars of coverage from AT&T in my house).

For a long time, it appeared all development stopped on GrandCentral and that the service had fallen through the cracks at Google. Without much hope for GrandCentral growing into what I wanted, I looked into similar one-number solutions - like PhoneFusion or Newber - that worked better with my device set. Unfortunately, since the first taste was free with GrandCentral, I found I simply did not want to pay money for a similar solution.

So, miraculously, GrandCentral emerged last week from the darkness, rebranded as Google Voice. And it appears on the surface that the service will finally meet my needs. The new voice-mail-to-text capabilities appear to be an adequate workaround for the lack of access to voice mail on mobile devices. And a renewed focus from Google gives hope that they will develop an application for the iPhone, as they have done a good job releasing useful apps on that and other platforms to date.

It also looks like SMS redirection is in the works, so I can finally use my GrandCentral/Google Voice number for Skype caller ID.

With any luck, I will get to use it at CTIA this year.