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Archive for March, 2009
Last week Google launched Google Voice, a new service that creates a single phone number and inbox for managing all of your phones, transcribing voicemail, and more. It’s in closed beta, but we’ve got a sneak peek.
If you remember, Google Voice is the all-grown-up version of previously mentioned GrandCentral, which Google acquired last year. Google Voice boasts many of the same features as GrandCentral did, but it also adds a few cool features, too. If you’re already a GrandCentral user, chances are you’ll be joining Google Voice sometime soon (if you haven’t already). Let’s take a look.
The Inbox Aggregates Your Voicemail and Text Messages
As you can see in the picture above, all SMS and voicemail messages all come to Google Voice through the inbox. You can selectively filter calls to view voicemail only, SMS only, calls placed, received, or missed.
Voicemail Transcription is Fast and Searchable
My test calls to Google Voice were very quickly transcribed (we’re talking within two minutes), and the results were… not bad. One would only guess that transcription will be improved over time, but it’s already been decent in my tests. You should expect some gibberish to start out, though. Google indicates the certainty of the transcription by the greyscale text; the darker the text, the more sure Google is.
The coolest part about voicemail transcription is that it’s searchable, allowing you to dig up a voicemail in Google Voice the same way you can find an old email in Gmail. In fact, if you tell Google Voice to send you an email when you get new voicemail, the transcription is included, meaning that your voicemail actually will be searchable from Gmail.
Place Calls and Send SMS from Google Voice
You can place any call or send a text message to any contact quickly and easily with Google Voice’s quick Call and SMS buttons. At first blush placing a call from Google Voice may seem like more trouble than it’s worth, but if you think about it, the contact autocompletion makes placing a call extremely fast.
Integration with Google Contacts
If you’re using Google Contacts in Gmail, your effort will pay off bigtime. Not only does Google Voice plug into the same contacts, but every box in Google Voice sports contact autocompletion—from the search box to the SMS or Call To: fields.
Group Settings Send Specific Calls to Specific Phones
One of Google Voice’s coolest features is the ability to send phone calls and text messages to more than one phone based on rules that you set up. For example, you can set all calls from your boss or co-workers to only reach your work phone, or have calls from your significant other ring every phone so you’re always reachable.
And Now for the Creepy Videos
Google Voice (like GrandCentral before it) has some in-call options that are a little creepy, or at least for those of us who have gotten used to cell phone etiquette as we know it. For example, there’s the Listen In feature:
But there’s other really good stuff, like call blocking:
You’ve also got awesome features like call recording:
…and call switching:
Call switching could eventually come in extremely handy when Google (inevitably) adds some sort of VoIP or integrates with Google Video Chat.
Tin foil hats aside, we’re very excited and impressed with everything Google Voice could mean to managing your phones and integrating voicemail and SMS directly into your email. Whether you’ve given it a try or gone full-on Google Voice, share your experience in the comments.
Today Facebook is rolling out the update to user homepages that brings a new look, enhanced filter system, and most importantly, realtime updating. Real-time updates are Facebook’s response to Twitter, which has been able to thrive on offering users immediate updates from their friends and favorite celebrities (Facebook’s original News Feed took hours to update).
The new design also includes an emphasis on sharing media and links with friends. Before now the Facebook homepage offered a ‘What are you doing now?’ message nestled at the top. This has now been replaced with Facebook’s ‘Publisher’ interface, which lets users share status updates, photos and links, as well as content from their Facebook Apps.
Because the real-time stream will only display items for a brief period of time (depending on how many friends you have), Facebook is using a new ‘Highlights’ sidebar to show some of the older stories that it thinks you’ll probably be interested in (it sounds similar to the old News Feed).
Facebook’s blog post on the update notes that the new homepage will be deployed over the coming days, so it may still be awhile before you can try it out for yourself.
I’m apparently among the first to have the update. So how does it work?
- It feels a lot more like Twitter. The whole page focuses around conversations, which isn’t a bad thing at all (I’m noticing fewer items around photos and events)
- Items may be posted in real time, but it doesn’t seem like the page updates as the items come in (I’m having to refresh to see new content)
- The Highlights section doesn’t exactly do a great job at highlighting news stories. With only a narrow column to work with the stories don’t stand out. And with so little real-estate, sponsored items (which are basically just ads) are more irritating.
- The ability to filter the News Feed by Friend Lists is great (
I can’t believe we’ve gone this long without it)You actually could filter by Friend Lists in the old version, though the feature was less visible. You can also ‘x’ out friends you never want to see appear in your News Feed again.
Mac OS X
Mac OS Xonly: Free application AddressBookSync pulls contact photos and birthdays from your Facebook account and syncs them with Address Book, so you’ll always nice photos assigned to your contacts (and hopefully never miss another birthday).
Once upon a time we covered a very cool app called FacebookSync that could sync all of your Facebook friends’ profile info—including address and phone number—into your Address Book. The folks at Facebook killed that app for violating their Terms of Service, but apparently AddressBookSync’s limited photo-and-birthday information pull is within the bounds of acceptable use. Since nearly everyone you know is on Facebook these days, AddressBookSync’s photo synchronization alone is a fun and worthwhile feature.
I was looking at an iPhone app earlier today called Photo Phonebook (iTunes link) that offers another seemingly smooth solution to this problem (it syncs Facebook profile pics with your iPhone contacts), but unfortunately it requires way more hoop jumping than it’s worth. AddressBookSync on the other hand is a simple, free download, Mac OS X only. Got your own, perhaps better method of getting pics assigned to your contacts? Let’s hear it in the comments.
iPhone apps designed to make sharing contact info easy are a trendy category in the app store (think Dub, Handshake, and SnapDat). All of these apps are trying to solve a common problem that most of us have. BeamME Pro, from Rmbrme, is the latest and greatest addition to the group.
At $4.99, BeamME Pro isn’t the cheapest option to exchange your contact info, but it might be the most convenient. Since BeamME Pro integrates with any user’s existing address book on any device, and you and your vCard recipients don’t need to create usernames and passwords, it’s a fast and efficient way to send and share your information from your phone.
Once you have BeamME Pro installed you can customize your vCard and start sending it via email or SMS to new or existing contacts. The app also lets you share the contact info of anyone in your address book (not just your info), which makes it painless to introduce friends or help a contact reach out to someone they may not have in their address book.
BeamME Pro also comes with a few extra features that you might like, including a contact feed for a complete history of all sent cards and the option to geo-tag new contacts for contact mapping.
A scaled down free version is also available in the app store.