What does Google want out of your Voice?

Google Voice is an odd duck in Google's app collection. What does it really do for the search giant?

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Google Voice transcript in action

Update: Response from Google spokesperson now included.

With almost every Google product, you can point somewhere in your browser window or Android screen and say, “That’s why they provide the server space.”

Gmail? There are a few ads, and learning to fight spam probably helps Google’s search results. Docs? No ads yet, but it convinces workers and companies to look to the cloud, Google’s cloud, for their productivity, and more web time equals more ad exposure. Android is the same way, getting more people into smartphones then would have been the norm by now. And Google+ is, by all accounts, Google’s attempt to get the kind of personalized data on people that it needs for contextual results.

But Google Voice is, if not the outlier, at least the strangest offering, and has possibly the lowest ratio of revenue to cost. I don’t have any numbers on that, as Google doesn’t typically break out its individual products in its earnings reports. But Voice doesn’t display ads on the web. Its mobile version is more of a utility, a smartphone voicemail upgrade, than anything else. In fact, on the most up-to-date Android phones, Google Voice literally replaces the phone’s voicemail and call log.

Starting from this point, you can just assume that, if you want it to, Google will let you send text messages for free, store your voicemail on its servers, transcribe them as best it can with its speech-to-text algorithms, and provide the bandwidth to transform any calls to your “one number” into a Voice-over-IP call to any phone you’ve registered. What’s more, if you don’t mind plugging a headset into your laptop, you can make free voice calls to anywhere in the U.S. or Canada with Google Voice and Gmail. Google doesn’t mind providing all the storage and throughput for all the calls you will make in your life.

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