Gmail Users Get Free Phone Service, But Is There A Price?

Google is taking on Skype.

It unveiled a gmail phone service, today, at its San Francisco offices.  The service was presented as a the next phase of Google turning its gmail into a complete communication platform.  Gmail has IM, video, chat, emoticons, and now phone service.

The service uses your computer's mic and speakers.  While signed into gmail you can bring up a number pad and dial anyone, anywhere on their phone.

A man talks on a gmail phone i

As publicity, Google will install red phone booths with an old fashioned rotary phone, which is connected to the gmail phone service. Laura Sydell/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Laura Sydell/NPR
A man talks on a gmail phone

As publicity, Google will install red phone booths with an old fashioned rotary phone, which is connected to the gmail phone service.

Laura Sydell/NPR

Google says all calls in the US and Canada are free for now.  International calls can cost as little as two cents a minute. People will also be able to call you through a phone number that will be assigned when you start using the service or if you have Google voice, it will automatically use that as your return number.

The service will also integrate all contacts and their phone numbers from Google voice or if you have an Android phone it will automatically add those contacts to your list.

As a way to promote their new service, Google has rolled out a goofy PR campaign.  Google will roll out red phone booths installed with an old fashioned rotary phone connected to the gmail phone service.  Google says the booths will be put at airports and college campuses though they didn’t specify which campuses or airports.  (I suppose you can change into a superhero while making free calls.)

The service is certainly a fiscal and convenience upgrade from Skype, which only allows free calls to other Skype users.  But, that could change in the future based on how Google wrote their announcement.  A Google spokesperson says it will be free for at least a year and that there is a good chance that they will keep it free.

I tried the service over at Google on a MacBook Pro.  According to fellow All Tech contributor, Wright Bryan, who got a message from me on the other end, the sound quality was high.  It’s certainly easy to use.

But what’s Google up to?

Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin thinks the reason that Google was a little fickle about how long it would be free is that they are experimenting.

“In the same way they monetize gmail with relevant ads. I think they believe they can deliver it based on audio communication.”

What Golvin is saying is that Google could use the content of your calls to target ads to you.  That certainly sounds creepy.

A Google spokesperson, Mike Nelson says absolutely not.  The plan is to make money on international calls.

What Google is showing is that the distinction being made by phone companies between voice calls, video and other data is being blurred.  Google is pushing the envelope in terms of trying to push the telecoms into a different future — one where you pay one bill for all your data.

But, in the meantime they are making it easier to spend more time using their services.



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