And this is where Google wins by a landslide. With Google Voice you get an actual ten digit phone number, call forwarding, voice mail, voice mail transcription, text messaging, call blocking, and I’m sure if you ask nicely they’ll probably give you a massage and a cookie. The only thing you have to actually pay for is international calling, which they start you with a ten cent credit for. Enjoy your free thirty second call to the United Kingdom.
Skype, on the other hand, gives you one free ten minute phone call within the United States, half of which will be spent asking “What did you just say?” Everything else costs money, although two cents a minute within the United States isn’t exactly prohibitive. Calling Skype-to-Skype is always free, as is using most any Skype-to-Skype service, but calling an actual phone is still going to cost you. They have incredibly inexpensive subscription plans — $14 a month for unlimited international calling is pretty sweet, all the way down to a still reasonable $3 a month for unlimited U.S. and Canada calling — but this still doesn’t compete with free.
It gets worse. Google Voice hands you a phone number from the start; Skype charges you $18 for a three month subscription or $60 for twelve months. Text messaging costs money, too. Call forwarding? That, too.
The one thing Skype can lord over Google Voice is that it’s international while Google Voice seems to be limited to the United States (though you can buy credit to call internationally from Google Voice.) But if you’re in the U.S., Skype is a supremely hard sell.
Frankly, Google Voice is awesome, and it starts to become awfully clear why it keeps getting denied on Apple’s App Store. If you were able to install Google Voice on the iPhone, you’d have virtually no use for your actual phone plan, just the data. It speaks to a larger issue: the industry that holds the keys to the kingdom is the one that stands to lose the most as everything moves over to internet protocols. Of course AT&T doesn’t want you to have unlimited data; it would mean you’d be able to circumvent the minutes that are costing you an arm and a leg. Just like Comcast and Time Warner don’t want you to have unlimited bandwidth on your home internet connection: with Netflix and Hulu (among other things), would you still want to pay $60+ a month for a bunch of channels that are just streaming online anyhow? It’s a major problem when your ISPs are also in the business the internet threatens to consume, and it’s no wonder broadband has stagnated so badly in the United States because of it. Google Voice is placing better phone calls than my phone carrier does.
So with that digression out of the way, you can chalk this up as another industry that Google is moving into and threatening to conquer. If you live in the United States, Google Voice is cheaper than Skype (hard to beat “free”) and the call quality is vastly superior. Getting set up with Google Voice is still more convoluted, but once you have everything put together it’s just more robust, and running out of the browser means one less client to install. Skype may be easier to get started with, but unless you’re international, it just can’t compete. If it sounded better or had some special sauce it might be a different matter, but as it stands, Americans can’t beat Google Voice.
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