Google announced on March 11 the release of Google Voice, an application that provides phone-related services such as automated voice mail transcription, SMS text-messaging storage and a single number for all of an individual user's various phones.
Google has been rapidly expanding into new areas outside of its traditional search engine business, experimenting with everything from power management applications to health care pages, despite an economic downturn that has many companies rapidly consolidating around their core businesses.
Google Voice is an updated version of GrandCentral, a service that Google acquired in July 2007.
GrandCentral attracted much press attention at the time of its acquisition for its central service, which consolidated all of a user's various office, home and cell numbers into a single phone number. When that new number was dialed, all the user's phones would ring. On top of this, GrandCentral consolidated all messages into a single voice mail box, and made the messages available on the Web and for download.
In addition to preserving these primary GrandCentral features, Google Voice incorporates several new tools, including automated voice mail transcription, searchable via the Google Voice in-box, and the ability to receive, store and forward SMS text messages. Users can use Google Voice to place "low priced" international calls and link people into conference calls.
The service will initially be available only to current GrandCentral users, but will open to new users in the near future, according to the company.
"If you're already using GrandCentral, over the next couple days, you will receive instructions in your GrandCentral in-box on how to start using Google Voice," Craig Walker, Vincent Paquet and Wesley Chan, Google Voice product managers, wrote on Google's corporate blog. "We'll be opening it up to others soon, so if you'd like to be notified when that happens, please send us your e-mail address."
At the current time, Google Voice is being offered as a free service.
Google has made several large announcements lately. On March 5, the company announced that it was adding public profiles to its Google Health solution, allowing users to update their medical histories online.
Even as Google has been exploring areas such as power management applications, not to mention proposing a national renewable energy solution, it has also been buttressing the abilities of its key search business.
On March 11, the company announced that it will introduce "interest-based advertising," which will display ads based on a user's previous searches and page views; the foray into behavioral targeting, the company hopes, will boost its ad revenue via a tighter focus on individual users' desires.
"Google is branching out into all major areas of information technology: OS, apps, communications," Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, said in an e-mail. "Voice is one more unifying tool that Google is using to make its offerings more appealing to a general audience."
Kay added, "It's one more brick in the giant edifice that Google is assembling to garner a customer touch, from as high a proportion of all electronic transactions as possible."
Editor's Note: This story has been updated with comments from an analyst.