Many people today have more than one phone number and voice mailbox. You may have a cell phone, a home phone (landline), and an office or business phone. Just telling people where to reach you and checking your voice mail can be a hassle. While some people choose to live on their cell phone, a more elegant solution for many is Google Voice. If you are new to Google Voice, the idea is to have one number that rings all your phones (wherever you happen to be) instead of handing out different numbers for where you might be, and also have one place to check your voice mail.
When someone calls you on your Google Voice (GV) number, you can have it ring as many of your phones as you want and answer on whichever one is most convenient. If any of your phone numbers change, it’s easy to point Google Voice at your new number. If you prefer not to take the call immediately, GV will take a message and even transcribe it for you. Where this gets interesting is that you can have this transcription sent automatically to your cell phone (as an SMS), to a text or IM client on your iPad or desktop, or to your Email inbox. You don’t have to call in to check your voice mail unless you want to. If someone calls your cell number directly, you can still use Google Voice as your unified answering machine by forwarding your cell phone voice mail. Even most landlines can enable “conditional forwarding” to use Google Voice.
On the Mac, I use Phone Amego to dial calls or send SMS from the desktop via Google Voice, and get on-screen Caller ID from all my phones. A nifty companion for Phone Amego on the Mac is Prowl which is a Growl client for iOS. By configuring the Prowl plug-in on the Mac, I can receive caller ID notifications on my iPhone or iPad when my home phone rings. Between iCal logging and the Prowl notification log, I have a handy (searchable) record of my calls on my iPad (or iPhone).
Google Voice can also forward incoming text messages (SMS) to all your mobile devices as well as sending outgoing SMS free of charge. I have voice mail transcriptions forwarded to my cell phone and use IM+ (a popular IM client) on my iPad. I find it easier to read voice mail transcriptions on my iPad than a tiny cell phone screen. I can also reply to SMS messages from my iPad and the reply is automatically routed back through Google Voice.
A missing link for many users is how to get SMS text messages received on your Google Voice number to display on your Mac desktop. I use a free webservice called “GVMax” (www.gvmax.com) to monitor my Google Voice account and automatically forward SMS or voice mail notifications to Google Talk (GTalk Instant Messaging service). On the Mac, I use iChat as my GTalk client. On the iPad, I use IM+. When someone sends an SMS text message to my GV number, within seconds it appears in iChat where I can reply directly.
The instructions for getting started with GVMax lack a clear overview of how it works, so I’ve expanded on them below.
(1) login to your Google Voice account on the web and navigate to “Settings -> Voice Settings -> Voicemail & Text”. Configure “Voicemail Notifications” and “Text Forwarding” to point to your GMail address (this step will allow GVMax to configure the rest automatically).
(2) proceed to the GVMax website and create a GVMax account using your Google Voice login name which will often be the same as your GMail address. You can specify a unique password, or use your GV password (the later makes the process a little simpler).
(3) Configure GMail filters to recognize messages from your Google Voice account and forward them to your GVMax forwarding address (which was created when you signed up). After signing up, you will find a button on your GVMax account page titled ‘Create GMail Filters” to do this automatically. Alternatively, you can create these filters yourself by following the instructions provided so you don’t need to share your GMail password with GVMax.
When an SMS arrives, Google Voice will notify your GMail account which will forward the notification to your GVMax forwarding address. The GVMax service converts the Google Voice Email notification to a Google Talk IM (Instant Message) so it can be picked up by any GTalk compatible IM client such as iChat.
To summarize, I can:
(1) Send messages via SMS or IM from my desktop, iPad, or cell phone.
(2) Be notified of incoming calls, voice mail, or SMS messages on my desktop, iPad, and/or cell phone.
All of this is available with no monthly or per message fees except for sending an SMS directly from my phone (sending via IM is free).