Google launched a new functionality to its Gmail service earlier this week, allowing account holders to make voice calls. Gmail users have been able to voice chat for several years now, and telecommunications service Google Voice was rolled out in the United States last year. Now the two have been merged, allowing users the ability to connect to landlines from within Gmail.
With this latest development, the world’s most popular search engine is set to take on the global leader in VoIP (voice over IP) communications, Skype. The number of people with a Gmail account is reported to be in the hundreds of millions, giving Google a numbers advantage over Skype’s 124 million monthly users. But unlike Skype, Gmail’s voice calling ability does not yet extend to mobile phones.
However, Gmail’s mobile call limitation does not seem to have had an impact on the new feature’s popularity. According to Google’s Twitter stream, over one million calls were placed using the upgraded Gmail platform in the first 24 hours of its release. A far cry from the struggle for recognition experienced by two of the search engine’s previous offerings, Google Wave and Google Buzz.
If the positive response to Google Voice’s reincarnation within Gmail remains strong, it is to be expected that the company will roll out business oriented modifications to target the commercial as well as the private sector of the VoIP market.
Meanwhile, Google aims to consolidate and expand upon its newfound piece of the VoIP consumer base by establishing free Google Voice phone booths in selected American college campuses and airports.
If the service takes off, then Google may also expand its current offering of free calls between national landlines in the US and Canada to other countries.
Here’s hoping that includes Australia.
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