Gmail is Calling: Skype better hurry on that IPO

by Dave Michels
Today, Google launched telephone calling capabilities in Gmail. It is a bit confusing though, is it Gmail, GChat or Google Voice driving this – the answer is yes. Here is what we know:

1) Requires the plugin for Google Video to access (initiate) this feature. The plugin is supported in all major browsers, and can be obtained here.

2) The feature shows up in the chat portion of the Gmail screen as “Call Phone”. Google calls the feature “Call Phones in Gmail”.

3) Does not require Google Voice. Any Gmail user can use the feature to make calls; however:

A) To receive calls requires Google Voice.

B) Outbound Callerid is either a generic 760-705-8888 or your Google Voice number if you have one.

C) Domestic calls are free, international minutes can be pre-purchased at the same (low) rates of Google Voice. These are hard to beat international rates, and can be viewed here. Everyone gets an initial credit of $0.10.

4) The calling feature does not require any special hardware – headsets usually make sense, but it will utilize the computer speakers and microphone.

5) Google Voice is currently limited to N. American users, but rumor has it this new feature of Gmail is available outside the US (unconfirmed).

6) Integrated Contacts works in Gmail and Chat. Numbers can be dialed via a simple dialpad or selected/searched from contacts.

7) The feature is being rolled out to Gmail users over several days.

What we don’t know…

  • Is this headed for Google Apps?
  • What codec is it using? HD?
  • The strategy for revenue (no visible ads yet)

What it means
First and foremost… watch out Skype. Skype’s benchmark is its free calling service surrounded by numerous complementary apps such as IM and video. Google is building a highly competitive solution using Gmail as its anchor. Skype charges for SkypeOut, Google doesn’t. Skype has a broad international offering, it isn’t known yet if Google will release this worldwide or not.

UC? Absolutely. Google is taking UC to a fairly comprehensive level with a single number integrated to email, voice mail, chat, presence, voice mail, contacts, mobility, and video – not to mention its collaboration capabilities. Google is keeping it all at a consumer level, but I contend an enterprise version is coming.

Google is putting together a comprehensive strategy unified communications. Consider all the Gmail users, all the Google Voice users (over a million), all the Android users, and it becomes pretty compelling pretty quickly that the competitive landscape in telephony can change pretty quickly.

Related reading (by me):
Future of the Phone: Bring Your Own (NoJitter)
Google’s Voice Possibilities (GigaOm Pro – Subscription required).