Google Voice: The ultimate iPhone how-to

Google Voice: The ultimate iPhone how-to

Summary: Google fought Apple hard for the right to distribute a Google Voice iPhone app and won. This guide shows you how to get the most out of Google Voice on your iPhone.

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This project: The Ultimate Google Voice How-to Guide 

Outgoing calls with your Google Voice Caller ID

One of the more interesting aspects of Google Voice is that you can make outgoing calls and the people you call will see your Google Voice Caller ID. There is a gotcha here, though.

In order for this to work, you must be using the Google Voice app. That means, for example, if you get an email with a phone number in it, you need to be diligent. Clicking that phone number will dial out using the iPhone's native dialer, and will reveal your iPhone phone number to the person you're calling.

Instead, you'll need to copy and paste (or remember) the number in your message, switch to Google Voice, enter that number in, and dial. It's a total pain, but it's a small price to pay to have control of your outgoing Caller ID number.

The good news is that the Google Voice app has good integration with your contact list, along with its own Quick Dial section, so for outbound dialing to your regular contacts, you're golden.

One other point about this. There's been some confusion, because when you dial out using the Google Voice app, Google dials some random phone number someplace in America. Then, through that and the magic of undisclosed Google data centers, Google Voice completes your call. That number is how Google Voice accesses the phone system, but it's not the number that shows on Caller ID. So there's at least something you don't have to sweat.

It should be noted that outgoing calls still use your minutes, so keep that in mind. There is a way to make outgoing VoIP calls via WiFi, which I'll discuss below, and that won't cost you any minutes.

I put the Google Voice app on my little iPhone tray, so it's easy to get to, and I remember to use it as a replacement for the iPhone's own Phone app.

Do not disturb

One interesting feature of Google Voice is its Do Not Disturb feature. Like the iPhone's native DND feature, you can enable this for the application, which means you can prevent calls from coming in, while you're still able to hear the sounds of pigs dying at the hands of bizzaro birds.

Making sure you get SMS notifications

If someone texts you, it's nice to get a notification. You can enable this in Google Voice, but it's buried pretty deep. In one install, I found that notifications turned on automatically, but in another, I found it didn't.

To enable notifications, go into the Google Voice app on your iPhone, tap Settings, scroll down to under "This phone" and tap "This phone's settings". On the next screen, slide "Text forwarding" to on.

We've got an entire article dedicated to tuning SMS. Please be sure to visit The Google Voice SMS guide.

No picture texting

There's one limitation here, and it's kind of unfortunate. Apparently, Google Voice doesn't support picture texting. For a free service, I have no problem with that. The disadvantage is that if someone texts you a picture, you get nothing. Not even a notification that anything was texted to you.

While I'd certainly like to see Google add picture texting, a good intermediate solution would be for Google to intercept the picture message and send a simple text message to you, saying you got a picture text, but Google Voice doesn't yet support MMS. Google apparently doesn't consider this a high-priority concern since the problem has been around since at least 2011, when I wrote the first edition of this guide.

Calling other phones from your iPad and iPod touch

Like many Google products, there's are some arcane and unclear options available in the Google Voice app. One such option is the "Use Click2Call" button. When you enable it, you're able to dial out from a non-phone device by routing your call through a nearby phone.

What happens is when Click2Call is enabled, and you're about to make a call, you're presented with a list of phones. The Google Voice app then makes a WiFi connection to the phone, and dials the call through that phone.

Convoluted, but it mostly works.

Minutes-free VoIP calls

If you have access to WiFi (and this is particularly interesting to iPad and iPod Touch users), you can make minutes-free voice-over-IP calls to phone numbers throughout the U.S.

You can also use this feature over 3G and 4G, but it might not be wise unless you have an unlimited data plan.

To make this happen, you're going to need another iPhone app, Talkatone, which is a free download. Beyond in-app ads, I'm not entirely sure how these guys make their money (or if they do), but this free app and free service will give you free Google Voice VoIP, right on your iPhone.

It's a worthwhile download.

Fun with other platforms

This post has been all about using Google Voice on the iPhone, but you can obviously use it on Android phones as well. In fact, that's our next article in this series.

Google has also done a deal with Sprint where Sprint customers can use their existing Sprint phone numbers through Google Voice, with all the Google Voice features. I personally will never recommend Sprint after experiencing some breathtaking rudeness at the hands of their customer support people some years ago, but the company does field some impressive phones, which would work quite nicely with Google Voice.

Next in our series: Google Voice: the ultimate Android how-to

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz.

Topics: Google, iPhone, Mobility, Telcos

About

David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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21 comments
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  • RE: Google Voice: the ultimate iPhone how-to

    I have used the GV iPhone app since the day other was released(and black swan before that), and feel that its overly difficult for all but the most dedicated user. In addition to what you already docuy y mented, it's not possible to voice dial, or place handsfree outgoing calls from your car. There are a handful of other issues that make it a non-starter for most ppl. I struggle through the inconveniences, because I've been using my Grand Central # for years.
    dwoodeson
    • RE: Google Voice: the ultimate iPhone how-to

      @dwoodeson Pouring water out of a boot with instructions on the heel is too difficult for most iPhone users, so I'm really not all that surprized.

      Oh and advanced features like voice dial or hands free calls work flawlessly on Android devices. Maybe if you want a Google service, you should think about using their operating system. It's not really as hard as most iPhone users make it out to be. I understand it has more than two functions so it may be a challenge for a while but I promise, it won't be painfully difficult to learn.
      blueskip
      • really

        @blueskip
        for most iphone users eh? you have some kind of research on that? some statistics somewhere? anything with substance? or are we supposed to believe you because you were able to type it out?
        my gawd. do you people never tire? these platform wars are childish and boring.
        at least you'll get sympathy posting in this article. as long as you're bashing apple users you're like kin to gewirtz. doesn't matter that you're doing exactly what he accuses all apple users (yes, every single one of them) of doing. he'll embrace you.
        sportmac
      • RE: Google Voice: the ultimate iPhone how-to

        @blueskip AMEN! But to take it to the next step, the iOS is a great OS as is Android. Lets be fair now, with either platform there are those who will struggle ... they usually have problems operating a light switch. Whatever the platform it is up to us to help those who struggle.
        Zzyzx.exit@...
      • RE: Google Voice: the ultimate iPhone how-to

        @blueskip You completely invalidated any argument you may have had with your first sentence So I did not bother to read any further in your post. Then again that is exactly the sort of thing I'd expect from a die hard frothing at the mouth poo flinging fandroid.
        athynz
      • Notification

        I tried using GV on the iphone - the moment I realized that you couldn't change the default notification tone, I went back to Android. I can deal with no 3rd party keyboards, not being able to change default apps, etc, but this was a deal-breaker.
        worknman
    • I agree

      Though i use it, simple way to tell is look at the ratings the app got.

      And anyway how many article we need to see about google voice.
      Mac_Win
  • btw

    gewitz - good articles.
    sportmac
  • RE: Google Voice: the ultimate iPhone how-to

    Shame it's not available in the UK :(
    pianoman1962
    • Here, here!

      GV to Europe please, the world is not just North America -.-
      5hagg1
  • RE: Google Voice: the ultimate iPhone how-to

    For those who are Obihai users, check out the Obion app on iPhone and Android. It connects you through WiFi to your Obi device and you place your calls from there. So if you're in the south of France but your hotel has WiFi, you can make domestic calls to US numbers.
    ellett
  • GV for IOS?

    After reading the positive report on GV for IOS I went to the app store. I found that 528 users give the latest version 1.5 stars, so everyone essentially hates. 14,180 gave it avg of 3 stars over all versions, but more than 1/2 of those are 1 star. I'm gonna pass.
    brian@...
  • 3rd party versions on WP8 were great

    now I have a S4 and the real GV version, I prefer the 3rd party WP versions, having to open GV to see who texted you is lame.

    Still, being able to use my work provided S4 with my personal cell # for totally free is pretty damn sweet. saves $1200/year after taxes
    everss02
  • GV app for IOS!

    Sorry, but the app is extremely lacking for the iPhone. Granted it probably works great for android devices, but your article is about the iPhone.
    As others have stated there is no voice calling you can't send pictures or videos in text. The overall use of the app is clunky and slow, I'm in a text chat with someone and when they send me a new text it pops up as a notification even though I'm already in the conversation. Or when I tap in the area to respond to someone I often accidently tap on the dialer or quick dial area instead of the reply box as it is right on top of the menu area. I'm not saying that this is all Google's fault, I know there is a lot of limitations on IOS side. But to say that this is a useful app on IOS is just not true.
    ben2025@...
  • Talkatone

    I do not believe Talkatone will interface with Google Voice accounts after the announced May 15, 2014 date. See their support site for details.
    Force
  • Google Voice may not show correct CallerID

    I do not have an iPhone, and never intend to. But I have used GV for quite awhile on my PC.

    It has been my experience that while the GV number is properly displayed for most outgoing calls, that is not always the case. Every once in awhile, someone will see a weird number on their CallerID when I call them.
    slowgeezer
  • Regret switching to Google Voice

    I made the mistake of porting my number to Google Voice only to find it rejects group texting, cannot receive (MMS) pictures via text, imessages and does not show the GV # when calling or texting
    dsshon
  • Picture Texts

    It is correct to say that you cannot get pictures via Google Voice. However, I do have a little work around for that. If you configure your Google Voice to also email your text messages to your @gmail.com account then when a picture comes via text it should show up in your Gmail inbox. I haven't tested this out in awhile so not sure if this still works but it did once upon a time (and may still).
    LongingCrib
  • Update on VoIP clients...

    Talkatone went their own way with VoIP, which is disappointing since their client really is the best one for Google Voice. I have one now called "Phone for Google Voice & GTalk", from a company called MoPlus. It does the job but it is quite annoying with ads and push messages asking you to buy in-app purchases.
    Champ_Kind
  • Voicemail

    does anyone know how (or if it is even possible) to connect google voicemail for your google voice number? I'd like to keep either my carrier vm or a different vm for when folks are calling my cell phone number. I've seen comments that indicate this may be possible but have not found instructions anywhere. I'd appreciate any help.
    Bonniegirl