Google just loves upsetting the apple cart.
It shook up Web searching and advertising. It shook up free, Web-based e-mail services when Gmail offered gigabytes of free storage rather than a few megabytes. It shook up the way companies go public.
The latest development is particularly shakeworthy: Google now lets you make free phone calls from your computer. It isn’t new to fellow geeks who have installed Skype or iChat and use special “handles” like SkiBunny1968 — but it will be to normal people, on regular American and Canadian phone numbers. Free.
The new feature, clunkily called Voice Calls from Gmail, was released yesterday. It’s tied into Google’s Gmail service. You need a Gmail account to make it work, and the dialer seamlessly incorporates your Gmail address book. That makes it very easy to call someone, because you type only a couple letters of the name and then press Enter.
I guess you could put on a headset to make this kind of call, but the truth is, your laptop’s built-in speaker and microphone work beautifully. Sound quality is very good. The delay is just under a second, like a cellphone call.
Calls to American and Canadian phone numbers are free. (That is fun to type!) Calls to other countries are very cheap — usually 2 cents a minute to landlines, 15 cents to cellphones. (The complete list of countries and rates is here: https://www.google.com/voice/rates.) The idea, clearly, is that Google will make enough money from the overseas calls to make the domestic ones free.
If you have a free Google Voice account too, then you can get incoming calls, too. A little box pops up to let you know that somebody’s calling you. If you answer at your computer, you can even press the * key on the on-screen keyboard to transfer the call to another phone, like your cellphone, so you can hit the road without skipping a word.