Google is starting 2017 off right with an update to its Google Voice service. First launched in 2009, Google Voice is a free service that provides users with a real phone number they can use on a variety of devices. With apps for Android, iOS, and the web, Voice is a great solution for anyone who needs a backup phone number or wants one number to ring multiple devices.
If you’re an avid Voice user, you know that this update was a long time coming. Those who lost track of Google Voice might not even have known the service was still active. Let’s recap where exactly Google Voice has been and what the revamped app has to offer.
Note: Google Voice is only available in the United States. Those outside the U.S. can make calls with Google Hangouts (even on a tablet).
Wait, Google Voice Is Still Alive?
Let’s take a look at how Google Voice started and where it is today.
A Bit of History
In 2007, a telephony service called GrandCentral was purchased by Google. Google Voice then launched in 2009, with an enhanced featured set based on that service. It was an invite-only service at first, attracting a lot of excitement. After Google dropped this in 2010, anyone with a Gmail account could join instantly. Voice continued along until 2014, when Google merged much of its feature set into Google Hangouts.
Meanwhile, Google Hangouts officially served as the replacement for the defunct messenger Google Talk, which stopped working in early 2015. Hangouts replaced a suite of services that Google killed off and serves as an all-in-one messaging service. It supports instant messaging, video and voice calls, and even works as an SMS app. Google once tried to push Hangouts as the default Android texting app, which would have made it similar to iMessage on iOS.
However, Google has backed off Hangouts and now recommends Google Messenger for your Android SMS needs. Further, Google is phasing Hangouts out of the preinstalled group of apps on new Android phones in favor of its new video calling app, Duo, and messaging app, Allo.
On a side note, subscribers to Google’s Project Fi (which we’re fans of) can bring their Voice number to Fi. If you have a Voice number and want to transfer your carrier number or get a completely new number for Fi, your Google Voice number will be released and you can’t access it or Google Voice at all while you’re a Fi subscriber.
Voice and Hangouts
Confused yet? These rapid changes and replacement services are hard to follow, and we haven’t even touched on the relationship between Hangouts and Voice yet. After Google merged Hangouts and Voice functionality, the apps existed separately but performed much of the same function.
If you chose to link your Voice number with Hangouts, you could send SMS from your Voice number through Hangouts. The separate Hangouts Dialer app was required for making VOIP calls from Hangouts using your Voice number. However, you could use the Voice app for SMS and voicemail, and place calls through your phone’s dialer app using your Voice number and regular phone minutes. Until now, the Voice app was ugly and outdated, so many users stuck with Hangouts.
Essentially, you could use nearly all of the best features of Google Voice by simply having a Voice number that you used in Hangouts. With this new update, Voice users who don’t want to use Hangouts might just have a reason to use the Google Voice app again.
The New Google Voice
Before now, the Google Voice app looked straight out of 2012. It carried the Ice Cream Sandwich style Holo interface, and was simply not a pretty app. Have a look:
Now, everything looks great in true Material Design fashion. The app keeps three separate tabs for SMS, calls, and voicemail, and it actually uses threaded conversations like the standard has been for years. You’ll also notice snappier animations, and modern conveniences like the quick-reply feature that lets you respond to messages right from your notification drawer.
Aside from the new coat of paint, Google has made life a lot smoother for Google Voice users. Before this update, you had to use Hangouts to get MMS and group texts to work properly. Now, these work seamlessly right inside the Voice app — you can send off pictures just like any other messaging app. Of course, Voice staples like voicemail transcriptions are here and accounted for as well.
After five years of silence, Google has assured everyone that it will continue to update the Voice app with more features. If you prefer Hangouts, Voice integration isn’t going away there either. Google is rolling out the update over the next few weeks, so you might not see the updated apps and website yet. If you’re on Android, you can easily sideload the updated Google Voice app in seconds by installing the official APK file.
If you’re interested in signing up for Google Voice after this update, you can choose between getting an all-new number from Google or porting an existing phone number. You’ll need to set an existing phone number as a “forwarding phone” that rings when your Google Voice number is called. Visit the Google Voice page to get started.
Download — Google Voice for Android
Will You Jump on Voice?
Now you know all about Google Voice and how it’s been essentially stagnant for years. There’s really nothing else like the service out there, leading to its fans staying on board despite a lack of support for it from Google.
If the outdated app was keeping you from giving Voice a try, now is the perfect time! Whether you just want the voicemail to text feature or like the idea of calling from your Voice number to hide your real one, you’ve got nothing to lose by trying it.
For more from Google, check out these new awesome apps and features.
Are you a Google Voice user? Will you try the service after this update, or do you have no need for it? Please let us know what you think about Google Voice by leaving a comment!