March 14, 2014, 10:59 AM —
Image via woodleywonderworks/Flickr
Goodbye Google Voice. I am not really breaking up with you, not entirely. But you will no longer be the service I rely on.
I have to think you saw this coming. We had that moment, back in July 2012, where I asked what you were getting out of this. A little less than a year after that, I realized you may always be a second-class phone app. I had a chat on Twitter with your original founder, who, along with people inside Google, suggested that Google Voice had a future inside the larger, more modern world of Hangouts.
But we're coming up on a year since that discussion, and nothing has changed. Actually, things have gotten worse.
Let me just lay it all out here on the table, so there is no misunderstanding. The way we use phones has changed.
Fewer people have a mobile phone and a business line and a home line that might make One Number For All so. Text message costs (which are actually close to nothing) are almost always bundled into contract costs. Automatic voice transcription, while still a mean feat, is no longer such a magic trick.
International calling? I bought $10 in credit quite a few years ago, and have used just a few cents of it on calls to Canada. Skype is the lingua franca of calling someone overseas these days. And while you offer many clever tools for blocking spam callers and customizing voicemail, those are not features I have really used in more than five years.
There are, of course, things I have always admired about you, Google Voice. Having a virtual number meant I never had to worry or care what the number was on my SIM card, or if it would port to my next carrier. Because of you, I could hop from T-Mobile to Verizon to Straight Talk, saving money or getting better coverage. In-call recording by pressing "4," even if it only works when a party is calling me, has been helpful quite a few times. And being able to text from a browser, or via Wi-Fi on my phone or tablet, has been quite nice in a few no-service scenarios, even if tools like MightyText have made texting from a desktop as easy, if not easier.
But now we come to the core problem: the way you interact with other people. The way you interact with other apps. Even the apps in your family.
- You cannot display or receive picture or other multimedia messages (MMS) from almost anyone, even other Google Voice users. There's a "technically maybe" if you're a Sprint customer who integrated with Voice, but for most people, MMS messages not only don't come through, there's no notice that someone tried to send something. Explaining that to people does no good; you just seem like you do not care at all about that baby/dog/inside-joke pic your friend sent.
- Since multi-person text messages are technically MMS messages, those are also out. Everyone except you gets the message about dinner being canceled tonight.
- Emoji. You don't do emoji. My neighbor tried to thank me for delivering emergency cocoa powder last night with a :thumbsup: and a :cookie:. I got "\ufffd\ufffd" and had to ask.
- Phone lag. It has gotten much better since the earliest days, Voice, but there is no mistaking that, when I'm calling with Google Voice, I'm letting Google connect the call through internet telephony, through their servers. It's maybe a half to sometimes three-quarters of a second, but I keep tripping over people's questions, their greetings, their goodbyes. Honestly, I had been blaming myself, until I started accidentally calling people with the right number.
- About those calls: they're because of the Weird Hangouts Numbers. Ever since Hangouts chat offered to handle SMS on Android phones, it has been adding the usually unseen secondary numbers for all my contacts. When you call or text someone on Google Voice, you're actually calling them on some other different number, one that Google Voice controls through its telephony servers. You don't see these numbers using the Google Voice app, but now they're confusing addition to everyone's profiles. Tap the wrong one while calling or texting, with Google Voice calling turned on or off, and you get a confused "I don't recognize this number."
- You don't play well, or barely at all, with apps that want to take in or send out text messages for me. We've talked about this, and while Hangouts does do pretty well sharing with other apps, it perpetuates the Weird Hangouts Numbers problem.
I can overcome many of these differences on their own, Google Voice; I know I've done so in the past. I have joked to friends that it's a feature, not a bug, that I don't get picture messages. I have flippantly dismissed the importance of receiving ":shipit: :fireworks: :neckbeard:" from coworkers. And for a while there, I really did think that adding Hangouts to our relationship was going to smooth out the rough edges of picture messaging, group chats, and all that.
But the heart of this is: it's no longer fun, Google Voice. Having you as my main number requires some work, and there is no longer any secret power, some new and intriguing reason to keep this together.
It isn't fun anymore, Google Voice. And if it isn't fun, why do this?
Don't get me wrong. We'll always have a huge archive of text messages, calls, and recordings to look back on. And I might still keep you as my voicemail provider; your transcriptions are often helpful, and if not, sometimes sublimely hilarious. I would still recommend you to someone who needs to give out a different public or business number than the one they give to their friends, or who needs to record or store calls and voicemails.
Image by author
I should tell you that I'm about to port my number out, Google Voice, so that it's assigned to a standard SIM card with a regular old carrier. Soon enough, you will not be getting my calls or handling my texts. I hope it goes smoothly for both of us.
Goodbye, Google Voice. I hope you prove me wrong with a big upgrade soon. Be well.