Now,one number to ring them all

If Google search revolutionised the Web,and Gmail revolutionised free e-mail,then one thing’s for sure...

Written by New York Times | New York | Published: March 14, 2009 12:51:45 am

If Google search revolutionised the Web,and Gmail revolutionised free e-mail,then one thing’s for sure: Google Voice,unveiled Thursday,will revolutionise telephones.

It unifies your phone numbers,transcribes your voice mail,blocks telemarketers and elevates text messages to first-class communication citizens. And that’s just the warm-up.

Google Voice began life in 2005 as something called GrandCentral. It was,in its own way,revolutionary. It was intended to solve the headaches of having more than one phone number (home,work,cellphone and so on): Having to check multiple answering machines. Missing calls when people try to reach you on your cell when you’re at home (or the other way around). Sending around e-mail at work that says,“On Thursday from 5 to 8:30,I’ll be on my cell; for the rest of the weekend,call me at home.” And having to change phone numbers when you switched jobs or cities.

GrandCentral’s solution was to offer you a new,single,unified phone number,in an area code of your choice. Whenever somebody dialed your uni-number,all of your phones rang at once.

No longer did people have to track you down by dialing multiple numbers; no matter where you were,your uni-number found you. And all voice mail messages landed in a single voice mail box,on the Web. (You could also dial in to hear them as usual.)

Then,in 2007,Google bought GrandCentral. It stopped accepting new members,ceased any visible work on it,and,apparently,forgot about it completely. The early adopters,several hundred thousand of them,were able to keep using GrandCentral’s features. But as time went on,their hearts sank.

As it turns out,the joke was on them. Google was quietly working on GrandCentral all along. Starting Thursday,existing GrandCentral members can upgrade to Google Voice. In a few weeks,after debugging the system,Google will open the service to all. Google Voice starts with a clean,redesigned Web site that looks like an in-box,à la Gmail. It maintains all of those original GrandCentral features — but more important,introduces four game-changing new ones.

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