Google on Monday will begin giving users a new way to use their existing mobile phone number with parts of its Google Voice service.
No, it's not a full number port, which the company still says is coming and will eventually allow things like call screening, conference calling, or listening into a call before picking up--all with your existing number. Instead, Google is taking advantage of conditional call forwarding to let users send unanswered calls to Google's voice-mail service in place of the one provided by a user's carrier.
Once sent to Google, those voice messages are transcribed, then made available for playback and review online, or as an SMS message. Users can also take advantage of Google Voice's customized greeting service to give callers a different voice-mail greeting depending on what number they're calling from.
In order to use the new service, a one-time setup is required, which has both new and existing Google Voice users walk through a wizard that asks for their mobile number and what carrier they're on. It then offers up the special numeric code they have to dial to enable conditional forwarding from their handset to Google Voice.
For users who have a Google Voice number in the same account as their existing mobile phone number, it will be business as usual; Google Voice's voice-mail section will denote which number it was from. Google Voice's senior product manager, Vincent Paquet, explained to me that this system has been designed so users don't have to make any tough choices about which number they want to use. It will also allow users to sign up to Google Voice without having to register a new number.
Smartphone users with visual voice-mail services (such as the iPhone) may find that these extra features aren't enough to warrant making the switch. However, users with older handsets are likely to find Google's offer enticing since it enables them to manage voice-mails both from their phone and on the Web.
The deal is made even sweeter by the fact that all major U.S. carriers are on board, Paquet says. This may come as a surprise to some, considering that just last month, Google, Apple, and AT&T clashed quite publicly over the rejection of Google's Voice application from Apple's App Store in July. But with this new service, Google is merely playing by each carrier's rules, using a feature that's long been available as a way for users to pass on calls they cannot take. There's also some serious potential for carriers to generate extra income in SMS fees for transcribed voice-mail messages that users would have otherwise spent just a minute or so listening to from their phones.
Google Voice remains in private beta, although earlier this month Google began putting invites into the in-boxes of its users, allowing them to invite their friends.