So long, Google Voice

I signed up for Google Voice in about 2008 or 2009. This was back when providers actually charged you for text messages and I didn’t really use them. So I registered for an account and didn’t do a whole lot with it until I changed jobs and ended up in the basement. RIP cell phone signal. Google Voice made it possible to call one number and ring either my cell phone if I was above ground or my office phone if I was in the office.

It turns out that was pretty useful to me, so by the time I was moved to a different office, my Google Voice number was the number I told everyone to use. Being able to text and make phone calls from my web browser was a great feature. But as carriers started catching up, Google Voice sat stagnant. I braced myself for Google to decide they were going to drop the service.

Instead, they finally added the ability to send and receive pictures. In 2014. For a long time, that was only available if you used Hangouts for your Voice messages. But then the Voice app got support and all was right with the world. Unless you wanted to do videos. It’s something Google is supposedly close to rolling out.

But a few weeks ago, I bought a Samsung Galaxy Watch. That meant making phone calls or sending texts would come from my carrier number. Since I’ve been giving people my Google Voice number for nearly a decade, I figured that would just lead to confusion. So I decided to ditch Google Voice and port my number to my carrier.

It was fairly straightforward, albeit slightly slow. This is apparently due to the fact that Google Voice numbers are treated as landlines, so there’s more process involved. But not getting texts reliably for a few days was much easier than trying to get everyone to switch to using a new number for me.

I decided that the features I use are more important than the features I don’t use. I haven’t had Google Voice forward to anything except my cell phone for years. T-Mobile’s DIGITS service provides the web-based functionality I got from Google Voice (admittedly not quite as well, but I expect they’ll catch up). While I don’t often talk to my phone, the fact that Google Assistant can’t use Google Voice to send messages is a longstanding frustration.

Google had a chance to really make a great product here. Apart from search and GMail, Google Voice was the most valuable Google service for me. But the years of seeming neglect finally took its toll. Maybe some day I’ll move my number back, but for right now, I don’t really miss it.

Google Voice lives!

I’ve been a big fan of Google Voice for years. I first started using it when my office was in a sub-basement. Google Voice was a way for me to text with my wife without having to play submarine by going topside every so often. It also made it so that I could give people one number that would catch me in my office or on my cell phone. The ability to make phone calls with my computer (on the rare occasion I make phone calls) was also appealing. But as time wore on, Google Voice got no love.

Over time, people began including me in group texts or sending me pictures. Google Voice didn’t handle that well. I got the pictures in my email, but the group texts were basically individual messages. As Google developed new communication tools and Voice got no love, I figured it was always going to be that way. I gave in and started using Hangouts for my Google Voice messages.

This got me the ability to use group messages and MMS, but it meant always leaving myself signed into Hangouts on my phone (I could have messages forwarded to my carrier number, but meh). I had avoided this because I didn’t want to always be available, but it turned out to not be that big of an issue. Then last month Google announced an update to Voice. Holy crap, it’s still alive!

Once the new app reached my phone, I switched back. I’ve been using it for a week or so and I have to say that I like it. The new UI looks great and the mobile app is much quicker than Hangouts to find the person or number I’m typing.

There are three main drawbacks. First, it turns out that I really liked having my SMS/MMS messages trated like IMs in my Gmail window, but that doesn’t work anymore. Second, when using voice commands to send a text, it still uses my carrier number instead of my Google Voice number. This is apparently just a missing feature (it was a problem in Hangouts, too), but I hope Google fixes it. I don’t usually speak to my phone, but if it behaved the way I wanted, I might use that feature more. Lastly, the widget disappeared. Not a big deal, but a minor annoyance.

The “classic” web interface for Google Voice.

The new web interface for Google Voice.

Google Voice is perhaps the most valuable of all Google services to me. I worried for years that they would give up on it. I worry less after this update. Hopefully they continue to put more effort into it as Hangouts becomes the abandoned project.