Site: Google Voice
Category: Editors' Choice, Oncoming Train award
The giant telecom industry is about to meet another giant force: Google. Its new telephony service is a real threat to traditional phone systems. Google Voice gets the "Oncoming Train" award since it's the product most likely to disturb existing services and companies.
While at the moment Google Voice needs existing phone networks to function, there's reason to believe the company will at some point begin offering phone service of its own, or at the very least work with mobile carriers (as it is with its Android mobile phone operating system) to create a Google-branded telecom experience. But unlike other Internet-based telephone solutions that require users to transfer their numbers and contacts to the new system, Google Voice will also work for people who don't move over all at once to the new system.
People who start giving out their Google Voice number instead of their existing landline or mobile numbers get value from the service even if they're not in front of their computers, since Google Voice works very well with existing users' phones. In many ways, Google Voice is a superior front-end to existing phone services, due to the ways it does visual voicemail (with voice recognition, spotty though it may be), SMS, and rule-based call routing. Google Voice is a very strong "gate" to other phone products, just as the Google search engine gates the Web for a lot of people.
This "last foot" position, the interface people use to access their other network services, is arguably the most valuable place a service can live. Google could well end up owning it for telephone services just as it does for the Web.
Google Voice handles voicemail, SMS, and all your mobile and landline phones.
Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET)