Liveblog: Google Adds Voice Calling to Gmail
Google announced today it was adding VoIP calling to Gmail for U.S. users. Desktop calls to any phone in the U.S. and Canada will be free at least until the end of the year, and international calls will be billed at rates as low as two cents a minute.
Here’s the liveblog of the announcement:
9:36 am: The event kicks off with Todd Jackson, group manager for Gmail, presiding. He offers a quick overview of the product’s origins and its evolution–the addition of Google Talk and Google Voice. “When you can see and hear the people you’re talking to, it really changes the way you communicate,” he says.
9:36 am: Jackson calls up Vincent Paquet, product manager for Google Voice. He offers yet another overview of the product and Google’s hopes for it. “We wanted to improve the voicemail experience,” he says. “So we took what we learned from Gmail–that people want a lot of storage and an easy way to search and share their messages–and added it to the product.”
9:38 am: Paquet continues, noting the company then evolved the product into a mobile app. More touting of Google Voice features.
9:39 am: To date, Gmail and Google Voice haven’t been able to communicate with one another, but that’s about to change. With that, Paquet calls Craig Walker, product manager for real-time communications, to the stage. And he announces the big news of the day: The ability to make phone calls from Gmail. (Hey Skype! How’s that IPO registration going?)
9:41 am: Walker runs through a usage scenario, noting that if you have a good Internet connection in your home, you no longer need great cell coverage to make a call.
9:43 am: Walker pulls up his Gmail account, pulls up a Googley-looking HTML keypad and calls his travel agent via his Gmail contacts list. He does this without a headset, and the call quality and clarity is surprisingly good.
9:44 am: Interesting. The keypad displays a flag to indicate the country being called. It also displays the rate. With Paquet’s help, Walker calls a hotel in Paris. The rate: two cents a minute. Walker notes that the average rate for such a call is typically well over a dollar a minute.
9:46 am: Well, would you look at that. Walker’s just gotten a voicemail from his travel agent. As he checks it, his travel agent calls him back. She’s not happy that he’s seeking a Paris hotel without her help and begins a little tirade. Walker promptly demonstrates the mute feature and talks for a bit about how he could, if he wanted, pass the call from his computer to his phone.
9:48 am: Missed the details, but evidently, there’s a handy caller ID feature as well.
9:50 am: On to pricing. “We looked at the typical cell phone plan and it just seemed way too high to us,” says Walker. He adds that the same is true of VoIP services. Google’s solution: zero cents a minute for calls in the U.S. and Canada, and two cents a minute for calls to landlines in France, Spain and a host of other countries.
9:51 am: Interesting. Google’s designed some European-style Google phone booths and plans to put them in airports, college campuses, etc.
9:53 am: Walker says, “We’re going to give everyone 10 cents call credit to try the service out.” Afterward, they can buy additional credits through the app.
9:54 am: The rollout of voice calling from GMail to users in the U.S. begins today. No word on countries beyond that, but presumably an international rollout will follow.
9:56 am: Some discussion of Google Talk (chat), Google Voice and Gmail converging into a unified application.
Will there be a soft client? Doesn’t sound like it. Walker says Google prefers to focus its efforts on established Google products. “We don’t want to create another destination for phones; we prefer to keep the ones we have.”
9:58 am: Will credits expire? If you don’t use them, yes–but likely only after a year or so. Pretty standard.
9:59 am: Walker: “We have absolutely no plans to charge for calls in the U.S. or Canada….Our hope is that we’ll make enough margin on international calls to support our low rates.”
10:01 am: Credits will initially be available in $10 blocks.
10:02 am: Any plans for enterprise deployment? No comment, though Paquet seems to suggest this feature is headed for Google Apps someday. “It’s a consumer-level feature only at this point.”
10:04 am: Audio ads? No plans for that, says Walker. Again he notes the margins on international rates and how Google hopes they will be enough to sustain the model it’s described today.
10:05 am: More questions about the product’s future in business.
Paquet: “I think this product requires additional features before it’s ready for enterprise. It’s really just a consumer-level product right now.”
10:06 am: Ah. Google is committing to free calls in the U.S. and Canada through the end of the year. Walker says the company has no plans to raise rates after that, but clearly it’s reserving the right to do so.
10:09 am: Inevitable question about the Apple/Google Voice flap.
Walker dodges, offers nothing.
10:16 am: A few more miscellaneous questions about rates and whatnot and the session wraps up.