Neglected Google Voice
The company clearly has the resources to make Google Voice a more compelling offer, but Google seems preoccupied with other battles.
Google launched its Google Voice service in March 2009. The service was similar to that offered by Grand Central before Google acquired it in 2007. It was innovative--it was a voice service that actually required users to have voice service from one or more other carriers to use it. Google Voice is an overlay service, intended to be the "public" number that programmatically routes calls to one or more telephone numbers or voice mail.
The service sent shock waves across the enterprise voice sector. It was only a consumer service, but Google had previously transitioned its consumer Gmail to Apps services aimed at business, government, and education sectors. It was presumed Google Voice for business would come next. That spelled trouble as Google Voice included many features and capabilities that enterprise voice vendors could not easily match--such as ad-hoc conferencing, ad-hoc call recording, and SMS integration.
Sure it had a few annoyances, but all products do--we live in an age of "ready, fire, aim," and Google no doubt intended to improve the service. In fact, Google Voice was adopted by many business users despite its limitations, it was free, robust, and was expected to get better. But alas it is now August 2011, and although it has been integrated into Apps, it is still largely a consumer-grade service with few major improvements over the years.
During this period, enterprise communication solutions made huge improvements. Nearly all enterprise communication vendors now offer a single number solution with integrated applications for desktop and mobile productivity. The idea of using Google Voice for business users isn't as compelling as it was before, although Google Voice still holds a number of capabilities rarely found elsewhere. For example, the Google Voice mobile client initiates calls without requiring a callback.
Google's intentions with Google Voice remain unclear. Google Voice presumably runs at a loss, as its only visible revenue is associated with optional international long distance service (the core service and North American calling are free). Although Google rarely discusses product road maps in general, the company does consistently roll out improvements to its services. It is the lack of major enhancements to Google Voice that concerns me.
Without profit or ongoing improvements, one must question Google’s long term commitment to the service, which makes it more dubious as a business service. Neil McAlister points out in CIO that Google doesn’t have the best track record with new products.
Diversification could help the search giant reach new markets, but as much as Google insists that it won't shy away from innovative, risky projects, its track record for turning them into successful products is spotty at best. If a particular product fails to capture the public's imagination, Google is often quicker to pull the plug than to invest in making it a more attractive offering.
A few such aborted initiatives include Google Wave, a much-hyped messaging technology that we were told would reinvent Internet communications; Google Health, an ambitious effort to kick-start electronic medical records; PowerMeter, a tool for monitoring home energy consumption; Realtime Search, an aggregator of up-to-the-minute information from Twitter and other social networks; and Lively, a 3-D virtual world similar to Second Life. Still other ideas aren't quite dead, yet lumber along listlessly--remember iGoogle?
Google Voice seems much less compelling than it once was, and annoyances from 2009 have festered into frustrations for business users.
For various reasons, Google Voice provides an inconsistent user experience. This drives up support costs and increases frustration.
Click-to-Dial: Google Voice is not a desktop application, it is a website and browser plugin. This makes several features difficult and inconsistent. Traditionally, the various click-to-dial options resulted in a quick call to the selected device, and then a bridge to the dialed number. But then came Call Phones from Gmail--which only allows click-to-dial to work with the browser softphone plugin. Depending on the format of the number, sometimes it activates the softphone and other times the traditional plugin.
Call Recording: This was an ingenious concept, ad-hoc call recording available to all users on any device--something initially difficult for premises vendors to match. However, the feature is only available with incoming calls. There is no way to use Google Voice to record a call initiated from the service.
Voice Mail Transcription: Many poke fun at the inaccuracies of Google's transcription service, but it is actually fairly impressive. Generally when people leave a voice mail, they are not expecting transcription ,so they don't speak particularly clearly. Google is transcribing natural speech with a fair degree of accuracy, certainly enough to determine the topic and urgency of most messages. The inconsistency here isn't its accuracy, it is whether the transcription is provided at all. Sometimes, due to transcription delays, the email notification gets sent without it.
Can't Call All Numbers: Google Voice prevents some numbers from being dialed. The issue has to do with some abuses in the PSTN that use regular numbers as a means to gouge service providers. This seems almost reasonable as Google picks up the tab on the vast majority of calls it places, but the blocking creates an inconsistent user experience. Google simply blocks the call instead of providing an error message--so it takes a few attempts to sort out the problem. The only recourse is to bypass Google Voice to complete the call. Another option could allow the calls to go through for a fee (like international dialing).