Reprint:Updates to Google Voice By DAVID POGUE
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Google Voice. To refresh your memory, I quote myself:

“Google Voice began life in 2005 as something called GrandCentral. It was intended to solve the headaches of having more than one phone number (home, work, cellphone and so on). GrandCentral’s grand solution was to offer you a new, single, unified phone number, in an area code of your choice. Whenever somebody dialed your new uni-number, all of your phones rang at once. (perfect for real estate agents)

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“No longer did people have to track you down by dialing multiple numbers; no matter where you were, your uni-number found you. As a bonus, all voicemail messages landed in a single voicemail box, on the Web.

“GrandCentral also let you record a different voicemail greeting for each person in your address book. You could also specify which phones would ring when certain people called. (For the really annoying people in your life, you could even tell GrandCentral to answer with the classic, three-tone ‘The number you have dialed is no longer in service’ message.)

“For people with complicated lives, GrandCentral was a breath of fresh air. It felt like a secret power that nobody else had.”

Then, after Google bought GrandCentral and unveiled an improved version a year later, I wrote: “Google Voice maintains all of the original GrandCentral features – but introduces game-changing new ones.”

The new features included free transcriptions of your voicemail (the text of those messages gets sent to you by e-mail and text message); free conference calling; dirt-cheap international calls (2 cents a minute to France or China, for example); and, perhaps most profoundly, Web-based sending and storing of all your text messages. That’s a first in cellphone history; for most people, text messages scroll away off the phone after 20 of them or so, with no way to capture them.

Anyway: today, some updates.

First, Google has *finally* taken Voice out of its private beta-testing stage. It’s been pouring out invitations to everybody who’s been on its waiting list–a long, long list. Already, everyone who ever asked to sign up for GrandCentral has been granted a full, free Google Voice account, and the company is almost finished inviting people who’ve requested an account more recently. Once that’s complete, the company plans to give every member a couple of invitations to give away to friends or family.

Second, yesterday, Google announced its attempt to eliminate one of the most annoying features of Google Voice. When I, a Google Voice member, call you from one of my phones, you see, on your Caller ID screen, my phone number.

The problem is, of course, that I don’t want you to use that number anymore. I want everyone to call me on my unified Google Voice number; otherwise, we’re defeating the purpose of the service.

So now there’s a free dialer program, available for the BlackBerry and Android phones (an iPhone version is in the works). If I call you from this little free app, then you see my Google Voice number on your Caller ID, not my phone’s birth number.

On the BlackBerry, this is a slight hassle, since you can’t use the built-in dialing methods (like dialing from your address book). You have to open the Google Voice app first.

On the Android version, life is much better. Your Google Voice number is transmitted no matter how you place a call. (No wonder it’s so much better integrated: Google is also the creator of the Android cellphone software.)

This technology poses some interesting questions. For example: These new Google Voice dialers work by contacting a local Google Voice access number, which relays your dialed number from there. In fact, you see the local access number (“now calling”) on your screen when you place a call.

So if you’re a T-Mobile member, couldn’t you add designate that local Google Voice number as one of your Five Faves, and thereby get free calls forever?

Answer: Yes, for awhile (although you’re almost certain to incur the wrath of T-Mobile, or worse). Unfortunately, Google plans to expand the assortment of local access numbers as it grows, and you can’t count on reaching the same one forever.

Another question: If the dialer is actually reaching a Google Voice access number, doesn’t that mean that my in-network calls (for example, from my Verizon phone to another Verizon phone) are no longer free?

Answer: Yes. That’s a big caveat, worth taking seriously. Using the dialer to place your calls means that none of your in-network calls are free.

Still, even if you use the dialer only for evening calls, or out-of-network calls, or no calls at all, it’s worth downloading. That’s because the app also offers nicely designed access to everything you’ll find at your voicemail transcriptions, call logs, all your text messages going back forever, the ability to reply to them, and so on. Best of all, these dialers give you direct access to those 2- and 3-cent international calls, simply and cheaply.

So for Google Voice members, these apps are definitely worth the free download. It’s great that Google is continuing to refine the service–and I happen to know that even cooler features are in the pipeline. Viva Google Voice!