Google has added a fresh set of features to its Google Voice internet telephony service including support for group and photo multimedia messaging services (MMS) and in-notification replies.
The update is the first that Google has made to Google Voice in over five years and will become available to users of the app around the world in the next several weeks. The updated features will be available first in the Android and web versions of Google Voice and soon in the iOS version of the application.
One of the biggest changes that Google has made to Voice is the user interface. The updated Google Voice app features what the company describes as a cleaner and more intuitive design for users. For example, All text messages, voice mails and calls are now organized under separate tabs in the inbox.
The new support for in-notification replies allows users to send MMS messages or receive them entirely within Google Voice without having to deal with email attachments. Users can send and receive MMS messages via their Google Voice phone number and also receive group messages that way as well.
More than 90 carriers currently support multimedia messages for Google Voice including all the major U.S. carriers such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and US Cellular.
Conversations with contacts are now continuously threaded so messages from each contact are in one place. In addition to the new support for group chats and photo MMS, Google Voice transcribes voice mail messages for users so users do not have to call their voice mail service to retrieve messages.
The transcription is currently only available for voice mail messages in English, but with the update Google will soon also introduce voice mail transcription for messages in Spanish as well.
“Going forward, we’ll provide new updates and features to the Google Voice apps,” product manager Jan Jedrzejowicz announced in a blog this week. Users who currently use Hangouts for Google Voice communication will not need to change to change in order to get the new features, Jedrzejowicz said.
Google released Google Voice in 2009. Those who sign up for it get a free phone number, which they can use to make domestic and international voice calls or to send and receive text messages and voicemail. The service allows people to link their Google Voice number to their mobile phone number or landline so calls or text messages received at the free number can be forwarded to the user’s mobile device or landline.
Most Google Voice calls placed to domestic numbers within the United States and Canada are free. Calls to other countries via Google Voice are charged at rates that start at 1 cent per minute and which Google claims are significantly cheaper than other options.
“When we first introduced Google Voice our goal was to create ‘one number for life’—a phone number that’s tied to you, rather than a single device or a location,” Jedrzejowicz said. Since then, millions of people have signed up for Google Voice, Jedrzejowicz said without specifying a number.