The Evolution of Google Voice to Google Hangouts


On June 24, 2007 @arrington wrote “Google To Acquire GrandCentral” for a reported $95 million. At the time anybody who had embraced the mobile phone was panicked because as of the purchase new users were not being accepted. No new users scared those of us who were using GrandCentral as our primary phone number.

GrandCentral was unique in that it was a phone number without a phone. At the time this was truly revolutionary…Today it’s still revolutionary. As mobile phones were mobilizing communications for everyone, GrandCentral was revolutionizing what a phone number was.

At the time Michael Arrington wrote (emphasis mine):

I’m speculating on where Google will use GrandCentral, but the synergies with Gmail and GTalk are fairly obvious and could be the next step in Google’s competition with Skype and other instant messaging platforms.

Google Voice

On March 11, 2009 Google Voice was launched. This was the next iteration of GrandCentral. It included Voicemail transcriptions (a precursor to Google’s voice based services like Now and Translate) and SMS managing. Not long after Google Voice started accepting new users again.

In August 2010, GMail accounts with Google Voice were allowed to make and receive free calls from inside GMail. GMail had become a soft phone for Google Voice.

Where GrandCentral had decoupled the phone number from the phone, Google Voice had decoupled services of a phone from the phone.

Google Voice was powerful because all your call and messaging data was in front of you no matter which device you were using and all of it could be backed up within GMail’s storage infrastructure. Searching this was a breeze thanks to Google’s in app search.

In the Interim

At the same time all this was happening messaging was becoming a must have for any smart phone user. SMS messages were costing for each send and receive. And since the carriers wouldn’t budge on their cost structure, inventive entrepreneurs decided to make apps that used the data services on smartphones to transmit messages.

In the USA it became impossible to get a smartphone without a data plan. But there was no reason to have to pay the exorbitant SMS fees for sending messages that could be just as easily sent over the data stream. So messaging apps like WhatsApp, Beluga and GroupMe. These apps allowed 1 to 1 and group messaging.

Group Messaging became just as important as 1 to 1. No longer did you need to SMS several people the same message. Now you could create a group and message them all at the same time. All responses would be seen by everyone in the group. WhatsApp is the most famous of these apps as it went on to sell to Facebook for $19 billion in 2013.

Google Hangouts

On May 15, 2013, Google announced Hangouts. Hangouts would be the next iteration of GTalk, the in GMail chat system. Hangouts would be cross platform, include group messaging and do video calling. Most importantly Hangouts was free.

The free group video calling was a feature no other service had. Now you could participate in a video conference call from your mobile phone.

Anybody with a GMail account could use Hangouts giving the service hundreds of millions of users from the start.

You could insert pictures and emoji as well.

Why I explain all this history?

Yesterday Google announced it was integrating Voice into Hangouts. Now you can make voice calls from inside Hangouts. You can get voicemails transcribed inside Hangouts. You can SMS inside Hangouts.

Hangouts has become the most feature rich communication app on the market. It is cross platform and free. Anybody with an internet connection can communicate in realtime from any computer or mobile device, video or voice or messaging, without incurring extra cost.

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