You probably heard today that Google launched a voice dialing feature within Gmail. This isn’t necessarily Google Voice (which is basically a call connection service), but rather a voice over IP client, akin to Skype, right within Gmail.
The thing that sets it apart besides integration with browser-based Gmail, is free domestic and long distance calls. The closest comparison is Skype, which is about $35 per year to call from a computer out to a normal landline or cellphone (Skype to Skype calls have always been free).
But what I like about this launch (besides that it is free) is what it could do for VoIP calling in the U.S. and its integration with search. Skype has already reached mainstream status with half a billion global users. But it’s not used as much by U.S. users to call each other or to launch calls as part of online experiences.
This was one of the caveats we mentioned in Skype’s forward thinking integration to local search results; there isn’t yet the mainstream inclination for U.S. users to launch Skype calls mid- local search. Skype subsidizing these calls (lifting the aforementioned charge) was hoped to push this adoption forward and it has.
But Google’s entrance to the space, like all things Google, could serve to further mainstream making calls directly within the browser. In this case, it’s within the context of e-mail … probably a good fit for peer-to-peer communication. But it could also drive VoIP adoption generally, by making it free and easy.
It’s also a driver get a headset — a traditional hardware barrier to VoIP — and have it hooked up to dial friends when in e-mail … or Skype numbers when ordering a pizza. Closing the gap between search and phone call has long been a holy grail of local search, but necessary hardware and software haven’t really been married (except maybe mobile).
As Facebook could potentially do for “checking in” after its Places launch last week, Google’s move today could be another early sign of the great mainstreaming effect it can have on consumer technologies. And its stylish 1950s promotional phone booths probably won’t hurt.
Update: Aaaand just like that … it reached a million calls in 24 hours.