Part of the magic for those who signed up for Google Voice, the phone call management application rejected by Apple and vilified by AT&T for skewering network neutrality principles, is that they get to choose a special Google phone number that will ring their home, work or mobile phones.
Users of the service also enjoy using voicemail transcription, call recording, call screening and SMS-to-email, among other nice features.
But not everyone wants another phone number to use, even if it rings all of their active phones. To that end, Google moved a step closer to number portability today by offering a tradeoff. The company released a version of Google Voice that lets users make their mobile phone number the contact point for Google Voice.
UPDATE: The catch is that users who opt to use this "lighter version of Google Voice" won't be able to participate in conference calls, record calls or screen calls.
Users will receive searchable voicemail, free automated voicemail transcription; custom voicemail greetings for different callers; e-mail and SMS notifications; and low-priced international calling. Corrects earlier descriptions of what will be offered.
Google explains the differentiation between the two offerings in this post and in this video:
Users who already have a Google Voice account can add this voicemail option to any mobile phone they've associated with their account.
Those who don't yet have a Google Voice account can request an invite or ask a friend who has an account to send them an invitation. When new users get the invite, they can choose to use Google Voice with their existing number, and/or or get a Google number, for the additional features.
For those of you who were expecting number portability, this is not the same concept as it uses standard, public call forwarding codes. But this is as good as it gets for now. The Google spokesperson told me:
"We're still looking into offering number portability. However, this does address a similar problem of people not wanting to start using a new phone number."
Meanwhile, Google Voice is being scrutinized by the Federal Communications Commission for allegedly unfairly circumventing rules that prohibit call blocking.
Google must respond to the FCC's inquiry by Oct. 28 -- tomorrow.