Want to hear the sound of Google further disrupting the world of telecom? If you have a Google Voice number and also use Google+ (as I do) with the Hangouts feature enabled, you'll soon be hearing this new sound if you haven't already.
An Unexpected Ringing
Yesterday a random PR person called the phone number in the sidebar of this blog to pitch me on why I should write about her client. This phone number is through Google Voice and I knew by the fact that my cell phone and Skype both started ringing simultaneously that someone was calling that number.
But as I was deciding whether or not to actually answer the call, I realized that there was another "ringing" sound coming from my computer that I had not heard before. Flipping quickly through my browser windows I found my Google+ window where this box appeared at the top of the "Hangouts" sidebar on the right:
Now, of course, I HAD to answer the call, even though I knew from experience that most calls to that number are PR pitches. I clicked the "Answer" button and in a moment a regular "Hangout" window appeared, complete with my own video, and with an audio connection to the phone call.
The PR person and I then had a pleasant conversation where I rather predictably determined quickly that she'd probably never actually readthis blog or she would have known that I've never written about her client's type of software. Be that as it may, the audio quality of the call was great and the call went on without any issues.
A subsequent test showed me that I also had access to the dialpad had I needed to send any button presses (for instance, in interacting with an IVR or robocall):
The only real "issue" with the phone call was that when I pressed the "Hang up" button I wound up still being in the Hangouts window with this message displayed:
The irony of course is that that phone number was never in the "video call"... at least via video. Regardless, I was now alone in the video call with my camera still running. I needed to press the "Exit" button in the upper right corner of the Hangouts window. Outside of that, the user experience for the phone call was fine.
The Future Of Google Voice?
Like many people interested in what Google is doing with Google+, I had read the announcement from Google of the new streams and Hangouts features last week and had gone ahead and installed the iOS Hangouts app onto my iPhone to try it out (marking Google's entrance into the OTT VoIP space). But nowhere in there had I seen that this connection was going to happen between Google Voice and Hangouts. I'd seen speculation in various media sites, but nothing direct.
So it was a bit of a surprise when it happened... particularly because I'd done nothing to enable it. Google had simply connected my Google Voice number to my Google+ account.
I admit that it is a pleasant surprise... although I do wish for the sake of my laptop's CPU that I could somehow configure it to NOT launch myvideo when I get an audio-only call. Yes, I can just go stop my video, but that's an annoying extra step.
It seems, though, that another feature removed from Hangouts, at least temporarily, was the ability to make outbound phone calls. Given that all signs of Google Voice were removed from Google's interface and replaced by "Hangouts", this has predictably upset people who used the service, particularly those who paid for credits to make outgoing calls. There does seem to be a way to restore the old Chat interfacefor those who want to make outgoing calls so that is at least a temporary workaround.
Google's Nikhyl Singhal posted to Google+ about the new Hangouts featuresstating these two points:
1) Today's version of Hangouts doesn't yet support outbound calls on the web and in the Chrome extension, but we do support inbound calls to your Google Voice number. We're working hard on supporting both, and outbound/inbound calls will soon be available. In the meantime, you can continue using Google Talk in Gmail.
2) Hangouts is designed to be the future of Google Voice, and making/receiving phone calls is just the beginning. Future versions of Hangouts will integrate Google Voice more seamlessly.
I'm sure that won't satisfy those who are troubled by the change, but it will be interesting to see where they go with Hangouts and voice communication.
(Note: the comment thread on Nikhyl Singhal's Google+ post makes for very interesting reading as people are sounding off there about what they'd like to see in a Hangouts / Google Voice merger.)
Will Hangouts Do SIP?
Of course, my big question will be... will Hangouts let us truly move beyond the traditional telephony of the PSTN and into the world of IP-based communications where can connect directly over the Internet? Google Voice once briefly let us receive VoIP calls using the SIP protocol - can Hangouts finally deliver on this capability? (And let us make outbound SIP calls as well?)
What do you think? Do you like this new linkage of Google Voice PSTN numbers to your Google+ account?
UPDATE #1 - I have written a follow-up post about XMPP support in Hangouts and confusion over what level of XMPP/Jabber support is still in Google+ Hangouts.
Audio commentary related to this post can be found in TDYR episode #009 on SoundCloud:
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