Google is preparing to launch its latest wheeze, Google Voice - a single number that forwards calls and texts to your phone. It's 21 months since it shelled out more than $50m for phone number aggregator Grand Central.
The service will be in private beta for a week or two and then restricted to a US audience, but anyone with a business card that lists more than one phone number should take note of a simpler way of doing things.
The concept is pretty simple: Google issues a phone number to the user, who configures up to six phone numbers to which calls should be forwarded. Incoming calls trigger all the configured numbers to ring, enabling the user to receive the call regardless of where they happen to be.
The idea isn't new - companies such as Yac have been offing much the same idea for a decade or so - but Google Voice will be free, and promoted by Google who have already provided videos showing of the feature set.
Making it free does limit Google Voice to places where Google won't have to fork out a fortune in call costs - so it's US-only for the moment. Outside the US calls to a mobile are expensive for the caller, which in this case would be Google, so the service won't work on this side of the pond until we get rid of termination fees (and start paying to receive phone calls).
The same thing applies to text messages for which recipients pay in the US, meaning that Google (like Twitter) can forward SMS messages without bleeding dry - lack of text messaging support has long been an issue for number aggregators, as it's more difficult to integrate than voice.
Google will also manage your voicemail, and transcribe messages for easy reading and indexing. Of course, it won't just be the user who wants to index their voicemail; having all messages transcribed will make Google's primary job of delivering targeted advertising that much easier.
Google Voice isn't completely integrated with Gmail as yet, though the web interface is similar and integration will come in time - making Google the "Universal Inbox" that was considered such a nirvana around the end of the last dot-com boom. ®