Now you can call landline and mobile phones for free or cheap, right from the Gmail window on your computer. After a couple of false starts and tantalizing hints, you no longer need an actual phone to make calls through Google's services: The new voice calls in Gmail feature removes yet another obstacle to dropping your landline subscription, as this solution will work well for anyone with a decent Internet connection but spotty or nonexistent cell phone coverage at home. I can also see road warriors using this instead of expensive hotel phones or limited cell phone minutes.
The service is available today, though you need to install a voice-handler plug-in for your browser before enjoying the convenience of free long-distance and cheap international calls from your computer. Google doesn't expect to make a killing on mostly free and ad-less voice calls, but anything that extends the reach of those pinpoint-marketing Google logins is A-OK with Big G.
In typical Google fashion, there is still plenty of room for improvement. For example, you may need to log out of your Gmail account and back in again before the "call phone" icon shows up in your list of chat contacts, and there's a settings screen for changing details like voice mail access from the new interface, but I get an "invalid number" error when trying to change it.
If this were an Apple
This is potentially a very damaging blow to land-locked phone line operators, from national giants like Verizon
Did you take a break from this article to sign up for your very own Google Voice account, or do you hate the very idea of putting phone calls in the hands of Google? Mix the venom and perfume in the comments below.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Google is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. The Fool owns shares of Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.