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Internally, Google Voice is being made to act a lot more like Skype. Too bad average users may never see the software.
Last week, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington uncovered and then demonstrated a Google Voice desktop app that could be making the rounds at The Big G's Mountain View headquarters. See Arrington's demonstration video here.
This is your voice on Google
That change raises interesting possibilities. What if Google created an all-in-one client for calling contacts on whatever network makes the most sense, whether instant messaging, Voice-over-IP, or landline? Google Talk already allows calls over the IM network, and Gizmo5, like Skype, is a VoIP service. Gizmo5 also supports calls to landline and mobile phones.
Should Google choose to make this software available, I'd be sorely tempted to switch from the Skype dialer I use now. Instead of paying $96 annually for a "SkypeIn" number to connect to Google Voice, I'd have a Gizmo5 account for VoIP and pay a small premium for landline and mobile calling. Everything would be stored in one app.
Can you hear me now? Yep.
Call quality could improve as a result. Not because of the dialer, per se, but because of the efficiency of having one service -- Google Voice -- handle every type of call I might make. I'd no longer need to access Skype for inbound or outbound calls. Fewer network hops means less chance of data loss, and less data loss means better call quality.
They haven't had much choice. Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR ) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) are creating a national wireless broadband network capable of handling voice, and Skype is one of the more popular mobile apps for Android, iPhone, Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM ) BlackBerry, and Nokia's (NYSE: NOK ) Symbian-powered smartphones.
Browbeating the browser drum
To be fair, it's possible that I'd get most of the functionality described above by using Google Voice in my browser. Trouble is, Google has plenty to do in order to make Gmail and Voice cooperate better than they do now.
Take address books, for example. There are two types of contacts databases for Gmail and Voice users. They're identical in most ways, except that the one for Google Voice includes calling preferences for each address book entry. Not so with the main Google Contacts software attached to Gmail. Integrating everything into a single Google Voice desktop app would make my experience as a user that much better.
But don't take my word for it. Users have started a petition asking Google to release a Google Voice desktop app as soon as is practical. More than 3,000 had signed their names to the plea as of this writing.
Investors should be rooting for the effort to succeed. Google needs me, and you, using its services in order to paint a picture of what we're thinking about, because only when The Big G knows what we're thinking can it deliver digital advertising that works.
Put another way: Google didn't acquire Gizmo5 because it wants to be in the telephony business, but because it wants to -- indeed, needs to -- get closer to users in order to grow. Having an integrated desktop Google Voice app would aid in the effort.
We've seen it work before. Every piece of Google software, both in the cloud and on the desktop, is a touchpoint for learning more about us, the sort of intelligence that corporate giants paid billions to Nielsen to collect during the TV Era. Google Apps, Gmail, Google Maps, Android, Google TV, and yes Google Voice, all of it is an extension of a research and development effort aimed at reinventing advertising, bit-by-bit.
But that's my take. Now it's your turn to weigh in. Should Google Voice be a desktop app? Will it matter to the company's bottom line? Let the debate begin in the comments box below.