Change is in the air following years of stagnation
Recently, Google rolled out an update to the Google Voice apps for iOS, Android and the web. The update includes an interface spruce-up, a new spam filter, better search, and a new inbox design. Voicemail transcription is now available in Spanish, as are group and photo MMS messaging and in-notification reply.
This is the first time Google Voice has been updated in around five years, as the company has, since 2013, promoted Hangouts as its hub for user-to-user communications.
Perhaps more important than what's been updated, according to 9to5Google, is what will soon be updated. The blog has reported that the Voice app will soon add VoIP capability.
Currently, the only way to make VoIP calls with Google is to use Hangouts, because Voice only supports call forwarding. This is going to change, though. In its announcement of the current redesign, Google hinted as much:
Going forward, we'll provide new updates and features to the Google Voice apps. If you currently use Hangouts for your Google Voice communication, there's no need to change to the new apps, but you might want to try them out as we continue to bring new improvements.
9to5Google followed up with Google to see whether it was reading between the lines correctly, and received the following response:
The updated Google Voice app doesn't have VoIP features — it has the same features for making calls as the existing Google Voice app. Hangouts will ring by default in addition to any forwarding phones on your account, just as it did before. (Again, not a change with the new app.) We are working on VoIP integration. [emphasis theirs]
Inside sources suggest there is more afoot?
9to5Google reports that a "tipster" said WiFi calling is coming to all devices. "This ability to make a call through your number regardless of device — and even on the web — could single-handedly make Voice a full-featured, cellular alternative, if not a full replacement," it writes.
There is a presumption also that Hangouts is set to drop Voice functionality, beef-up encryption, and move into the enterprise space as a group-collaboration tool for businesses. Quite why Mountain View would do this when the direction of travel (read: mass dash) is in the opposite direction, remains far from explained.)
A full-featured, cellular alternative, if not a replacement? It sounds like it might have at least one or two things in common with Google's Project Fi, which is currently available, but only to US users who own Google-branded phones from the last couple of years.
Fi switches users between Wi-Fi and three partner companies' cell networks, depending on who has the best signal, and customers pay monthly with no long-term contract commitments.
So: is this one more move by Google into the consumer wireless service space, with the long-term goal of building on other initiatives and carving out a niche alongside (or even atop) traditional cell service providers?
Maybe. What we know for sure is, when Google announces a move like this, we take notice, because it's a significant event in the VoIP world.