Google launches calls to phone numbers from Gmail
Google has just announced that you can now call phone numbers from within Gmail’s chat system.
Voice calls (and video chat) were possible before from Gmail, but only between two people connected to Gmail via a computer. What changes today is that instead of calling a Google account holder, you can call any phone number worldwide.
If you’re in the US, that is. And if this feature has been rolled out for you, as it is being done in stages.
Furthermore, calls to numbers in the US and Canada will be free for the remainder of this year, which is a neat marketing idea from Google to get people talking about this new feature. It’s been ages since I’ve seen any decently priced VoIP service offer calls to the US and Canada for more than $0.01 per minute, so, while free is free, the amount you’d save by switching to Gmail’s solution isn’t that dramatic. Except if you spend your entire day talking. But then, the people you call may get upset, since these North American markets still charge for incoming calls.
As for international calls, the full price list is here. After having looked up a few popular destinations, I can say that it seems that Google’s service is usually cheaper than pre-paid Skype calls, but more expensive than some other international calling VoIP solutions. That said, your mileage may vary, depending on where you call, of course.
Also, one big advantage that competitors still hold over Google in this space is that they’re generally available no matter where you are. Also, Skype and some notable others do have some mobile clients, that don’t require you to be hooked to a computer to make a call.
Google seem intent on turning Gmail into much more than an email client, with Buzz, video chat and now this. It may be a good idea, but I can’t help but remember the web ‘portals’ of years past. Most tried to be too many things to too many people and failed. Hopefully Google will know when too many features on top of Gmail is too much, or have a way to keep its design as simple as it is today.
More info on calling phones from Gmail is available here.