It's been rumored, and now it's here: Google's implemented direct computer-to-phone calling from within its Gmail service. It's a small change, but it makes Google Voice more powerful, and challenges the existing phone industry.
Google just revealed the news on its official blog, with the disarming and charmingly low-key line "we thought 'wouldn't it be nice if you could call people directly on their phones?'," referring to the fact that while its existing Google Voice and Video chat service is very powerful, it requires both users to be at their PCs and connected to Gmail.
So, starting today "you can call any phone right from Gmail." Well, not any phone, as the service is only now rolling out in the U.S., but check out the video below to learn more:
Google notes it's "been testing this feature internally and have found it to be useful in a lot of situations, ranging from making a quick call to a restaurant, to placing a call when you’re in an area with bad reception." And its even giving you a little gift: For the rest of 2010, calls to the U.S. and Canada will be free. Calls overseas are also at a special "low" rate Google's been busy negotiating. It's pretty simple to use, with an obvious "call phones" icon inside Gmail--your Google Voice number is your caller ID, and you can also receive incoming calls to the number directly inside Gmail.
While it's still wrapped up in Google's bland and now very aged-looking UI, making it not as "user friendly" as other VoIP services like Granny's favorite Skype, it's another big slap to the existing landline phone industry.
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