Google made an announcement today which I am thrilled about: The ability to make phone calls from your Gmail web page, which Google introduced earlier this year, will remain free throughout 2011 for U.S. users.
That’s right. You can make totally free phone calls from your totally free Gmail account. All you need is a (sometimes) totally free data connection. What’s also great about this feature is that you only need to install one plugin to start calling Aunt Matilda from your computer.
Step one – Download and install the Gmail Voice and Video Chat plugin. If you’ve been following my previous Geeks to Peeps posts (you HAVE been following, haven’t you???), you should already have this plugin downloaded after reading this post.
Step two – On your Gmail page, you should see a new option in your Chat widget – Call phone. Click on it to bring up a dial pad.
Step three – Type in the number you want to dial. If you want to call one of your contacts, start typing in their name and click on the contact when it appears as an option.
Step four – Click the Call button. The phone starts ringing on the other end and the rest is like you’ve always done phone calls.
You’ll note that there are a couple other options in the call window. One looks like a clock face. Click on that to bring up your call history. You’ll see who you called and when.
If you’re a Google Voice user, you’ll notice a couple of other call types – incoming calls and voice mails. That’s right – With Gmail and Google Voice (also free) combined, you can TAKE calls within Gmail. You can also screen calls by sending them directly to your Google Voice voice mail. If you want to talk to the person, you can break into their message and start the actual call. I’ll talk more about that when I focus on Google Voice in the future.
The second item you can click on is a dollar amount. This is how much credit you have to make Google Voice international calls. As I said at the start of this post, U.S. calls are free, but you can make international calls. They just cost money. The rates, however, are very competitive with other VoIP services such as Skype.
Google is quickly changing from an Internet search giant to a communications giant, with many offerings that cost you only the time to set them up for your use. If you own an Android mobile phone, the integration between the phone and your Google services is very tight and most of those services can be set up simply by logging into your Google account on the phone. Even the iPhone now has an app for Google Voice, allowing you to manage your account and make Google Voice calls directly from your phone. Telephone companies definitely are looking over their shoulders as Google redefines what it means to communicate by phone.