Updated: Google is taking a great service and making it better.
Today, the company is unveiling GoogleVoice, a revamp of the GrandCentral Web-based phone service that it acquired back in 2007. Last year, I called GrandCentral my favorite telecommuting tool and was thrilled when the company didn't cut it when it scaled down some services earlier this year. I use my GC number as my "work" number and have it set up to ring my home, office and cell phone numbers. It's the only number I use on my business card.
Up until today's announcement, Google really hadn't done much in terms of enhancing or upgrading GC's features. But with the upgrade to GoogleVoice, there will be new features that I hadn't even considered. Among them:
Automated voicemail transcriptions: Users can choose to receive free fully-automated transcriptions of voicemail messages that become searchable in the Google Voice inbox.
SMS messaging: Google Voice numbers can now accept SMS messages and forward them to your mobile device and in your Google Voice inbox and reply from either one, as well.
Conference calling: If you're on the phone and get another call, you can merge them - linking up to six people on a single call.
International calling: Place calls from your line and pay for them using Google Checkout
New forwarding features: Set up custom rules that allow you to determine when and where calls are routed, forcing calls to voicemail late at night, ringing on the cell phone only during off-peak hours and at the office during work hours.
Gmail Contacts: Google Voice integrates contacts from the Gmail address book.
I've been a fan of GrandCentral for a long time, largely because I see it as useful tool for the mobile and virtual worker. The Web economy has created an always-on, always-connected, always-available sort of work mentality. The new tools in Google Voice allow the flexibility of being connected no matter when or where without losing the capability to disconnect when it's time to step away.
Google Voice is a free service. Existing GrandCentral customers will migrate over in the next few days and the service - which had been in closed beta - will open up to users in the U.S. over the next couple of weeks. It will be integrated with Google accounts (meaning your Gmail user name and password will work).