Experts Bullish on Google Voice Mobile App for BlackBerry, Android Smartphones

Google Voice rolls out a mobile and wireless application that lets users make calls from devices such as the BlackBerry Storm and the T-Mobile G1 phone based on Android. Experts say the move may be more than a convenience, but a way for Google to insert itself between consumers and wireless carriers such as Verizon and AT&T. GigaOm's Om Malik and IDC's Rebecca Swensen weigh in.

Google Voice, which lets users route calls to their home, office and mobile phones via a single phone number, is in the process of rolling out to select invitees in the United States. But the Google Voice programmers aren't resting on their laurels during the roll out.

Google Voice product managers Vincent Paquet and Craig Walker, who co-founded the GrandCentral company that Google acquired to serve as the backbone for Google Voice, made the rounds at blogger and media offices July 14 to show off a mobile application that lets users place calls and SMS messages from their BlackBerry and Android smartphones using Google Voice.

Google Voice has always allowed users to use the service from mobile phones. Users dialed their Google Voice number and could access their voicemail or hit the Quick Call button online. But when users called out from their mobile phones, call recipients saw on the caller ID the mobile number associated with the caller's phone, not the Google Voice number. Recipients still had to juggle more than one number for Google Voice users.

This defeated the purpose of the service, which was designed to let users easily manage their phone communications with one number. No longer, as Paquet noted today in a blog post.

"With this new mobile app, you can make calls and send SMS messages with your Google Voice number directly from your mobile phone," Paquet said. "The app is fully integrated with each phone's contacts, so you can call via Google Voice straight from your address book."

Google Voice users with BlackBerry gadgets such as the Storm, or Android devices such as the G1 can: make local and long distance calls from mobile phones, as well as access and playback voice mails and follow along with "karaoke-style" message playback; send and receive SMS messages and read message transcripts; and access call history.

IDC analyst Rebecca Swensen, a Google Voice user, said that mobile application is a natural evolution and expected from Google Voice. Companies need a strong mobile presence in order to stay competitive, she told eWEEK.

The Google Voice mobile app is available free for download from Google's Website here and from the Android Market. Users can simply search for "Google Voice" to find it there. For those who aren't among the invited Google Voice users who'd like to get on the waiting list, click here to sign up.

Om Malik, who received a demo from Paquet, suggested Google Voice marks a competitive strike against phone carriers such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless:

"If Google bundles the Google Voice app with Android and sells it to makers of cheaper feature phones, it can start to insert itself between the consumers and wireless companies. This "man in the middle" position is Google's strength. The company has inserted itself between consumers and information via its search offering and profited handsomely from it. Why can't it do the same with this voice offering?"

Swensen isn't ready to anoint Google a phone service provider just yet, pointing out that, as with the Skype VOIP solution, users still need a separate relationship with a wireless carrier to make it work. She added:

"Google, like Skype, wants its users to stay on its platform as much as possible. I imagine Google does not care necessarily whether it's doing the transport for the call; in fact, I would imagine they would prefer not to. What's most likely important to them, as Om suggested, is being the GUI for communications, just as they are for search."

Swensen also noted that while Google does not have the user numbers Skype does, they do have a strong user base across their entire platform. "[Google's] ability to offer a hefty competition to Skype is much more than other new entrants to this market. And... their call management capability makes them a strong component in the business world."