Google recently introduced free calling from within Gmail – allowing users (in the U.S. at least) to call domestically for free, and call internationally for very cheap. Here’s why this is interesting:
• It’s a play at Skype and “SkypeOut” – their VoIP to phone service. Google is trying to get the huge user base of Gmail accustomed to chatting, video chatting, and even making phone calls through Gmail.
• It’s defense against Facebook whose chat services are being adopted and used a ton by Facebook users (i.e. everyone). You’d also better believe that Facebook is going to continue to improve its messaging feature, which one day may rival full feature email services like Gmail.
• This is the beginning of the end of phone numbers as we know them.
This past weekend I sank my HTC Incredible in water for an extended period of time and let it dry out for a couple of days (at the end of which it still works!!!! Thanks HTC!!!). During that time I was without a phone, but because I use Google Voice as my primary phone number I could still make and receive text messages. I could also receive my voicemail, and with Google’s new call from Gmail service that just launched I could also make phone calls right from the browser. I was in a situation that only a short time ago would have required an emergency phone purchase, and yet now I was barely crippled in terms of functionality. In fact, what I missed most was the ability to do other things with my phone like use the GPS navigation, browse the internet and check email on the go. I barely missed the phone part of my phone at all!
This is a real disruption – a disintermediation of the phone call as the most important part of what our phones do, and therefore a major step in the direction of turning phone contracts that have charges for voice minutes into data contracts where voice is just another use of the bits and bytes that flow into and out of our phones (and other devices). This is the beginning of every device being a phone, and of your email addresses and other online profiles (like Twitter, Facebook, etc.) being equally important as ‘endpoints’ that can be dialed in almost exactly the same way.
This will be interesting to watch.
But for the really interesting story about the angry cows and the waterlogged phones that spurred this post, read on: Angry Cows vs. HTC (hint: HTC wins).