I was one of the lucky ones who was able to get in on the phone management service Grand Central when it was still in beta. Google announced late last night that its relaunching the service as Google Voice and is available to current customers as a private beta. I, for one, welcome our new call management overlords.
For those unfamiliar, Grand Central is a call forwarding service on steroids. It assigns you a phone number with your local area code that you can give it out to every contact you have. Then connect your home, cell, and work numbers to your account and Grand Central -- now Google Voice -- will route all calls received at your assigned number to any phone, or phones, you wish.
There are dozens of ways to use this feature-rich service. Route calls to your office desk during the day, your home number after hours, or your mobile phone on weekends when rates are cheaper. Assign different actions to different people -- the service will ring all your phones when your spouse is calling, and divert calls from your lazy college pal straight to voice mail. The service also has a couple of really cool advanced features like the ability to embed a call button on your Web site and the option to listen in on messages as they're being left on voicemail.
Of course, one of the best benefits of this service is that if you have to change one of your phone numbers for any reason, you don't have to track down every single contact to let them know. Simply change the phone numbers you've assigned to your account and no one is the wiser.
According to a report from TechCrunch this morning, Google has added some new features for the relaunch including text messaging (finally!), voicemail transcription, and a new user interface. During its beta phase, Grand Central was free and Google says the new Voice service will remain so. I'm not clear on how that can be a money-making arrangement for Google (ads, I suppose) but, hey, who am I to argue?
I've used Grand Central sporadically for about a year but it was never really up to snuff, so I'm thrilled it's been overhauled and relaunched. It's already possible to filter, label, and manage email for maximum productivity, but phone calls have been a different matter -- your basic options were answer a call or let it go to voice mail. Now you can micro-manage your phone calls as easily as you do your email. How can you not love that?