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All the talk about 'Google Voice'

A screen shot of the Google Voice homepage

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: If you want to get a hold of me during working hours you can call my office. After that, you can get me at home. I've got my cell phone with me almost all the time too unless I'm in the radio studio. It's convenient, I guess, if you don't mind trying three different 10-digit numbers. Or you could have me sign on for Google's latest offering in its quest for world domination. David Pogue did a write-up of the company's new voice product in The New York Times this morning. David, good to have you with us.

DAVID POGUE: Thanks so much.

Ryssdal: So here we are, Google has launched yet another revolutionizing product here. What is this thing?

POGUE: So it's called "Google Voice," and it started life two years ago as a startup called GrandCentral. Google bought it, and all the GrandCentral fans thought Google left if for dead because there was not a word about it, no enhancements for two years. And then today they shocked everybody by unveiling a much enhanced version.

Ryssdal: So in 30 seconds or less, what does it do for you?

POGUE: Basically it transforms your phone. It turns voice messages and text messages into far more useful entities. It starts by issuing a new phone number. That's the downside. You get a new number that you distribute to everybody you know. But when they call that all your phones ring at once: you cell phone, your home phone, your work phone, your yacht phone. So we get out of that ridiculous thing, oh, we tried you on your cell, now I'll try you at home. That thing is over. And what this also means is you get a single, unified voice mailbox that's everywhere. It's on the Web, it's on your cell phone, it's in your e-mail. And what I mean by that is, they actually transcribe voice mail messages left for you into texts.

Ryssdal: So as I understand it, no ads for now on Google Voice, right?

POGUE: No ads and no plans to make any. They are able to support the entire thing from another feature I haven't even mentioned, which is from any phone if you dial your own "Google Voice" number, you get these options. And one of them is press 2 to place a call. Calls in the United States are free. So this means you could pick up your home phone and make free long-distance calls. Calls to international locations are very cheap, they're like 2 cents a minute, 3 cents a minute, depending on the country.

Ryssdal: So this is voice over Internet, right?

POGUE: It is. That's right.

Ryssdal: Then what does that mean for companies that already do voice over Internet, like Skype, which has built a booming business?

POGUE: I don't think I would like to be one of the companies in the way of Google Voice right now. There are companies that, as you say, do Skype-ish things and connect your long-distance calls for very cheap, there are companies that turn your voice mails into transcribed texts. All of these companies are going to have to sweat it. They're going to have to get better or die.

Ryssdal: Now that everybody is all excited about this thing, we should say that you can't get it yet.

POGUE: The several hundred thousand people who are all GrandCentral members for the last two years are all being offered today the chance to upgrade to the new service. If you've never been a part of GrandCentral they say it's going to be a matter of weeks while they work out the kinks for this upgrading process and then start offering these new phone numbers.

Ryssdal: It all sounds great. But doesn't it somehow strike you as little too much to deal with for one simple phone call?

POGUE: Yes. I'm sure there's a downside to all this somewhere. Complexity is one. But obviously this is for people who already feel like all these phones are too complex. And another one that I'm hearing a lot from my readers of my Times' column this morning is: What about privacy? Isn't Google now having too much power, aren't they now listening in to our messages blah, blah, blah? To which I say is dude, if you're going to worry about that, it's way too late. How do you know Verizon and At&T and Sprint aren't listening in to your messages right now? They could all be listening to your messages. You'll never now.

Ryssdal: David Pogue writes a tech column for The New York Times. David, thanks a lot.

POGUE: My pleasure.

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