Google Voice Port: A Week Later

I ported my cell number to Google Voice a little over a week ago.  Since then, I’ve been on a business trip, where I relied heavily on my various mobile connections.  Here are my impressions of Google Voice, after a week as an all-in user.

The Good

The most positive development is that my non-ringing cell phone problem has been resolved.  I don’t know if it resolved itself on its own, or if my numerous calls to ATT and online SOS’s to Google were answered.  All I know is that my cell phone seems to ring, which is pretty important to the whole mobile experience.

Now, about the general Google Voice experience

Receiving calls works beautifully.  I love getting emails and text messages when I miss a call, the way I can listen to voice mails right from Gmail, and the way voice mails are transcribed.  Yes, the transcriptions of hit and miss, and occasionally hilarious, but you can almost always get the gist of the message, if not the subtleties.

The Quick Dial screen within the Google Voice iPhone app is very helpful, with your chosen list and a list of recent calls.

In sum, the inbound calling part of Google Voice is just about perfect.

The Not Quite As Good

Outbound calls are a little more kludgy.  When you make an outbound call, your cell phone first dials a Google Voice number (I seem to dial out to a 313 area code a lot), and your call, showing your Google Voice number on Caller ID, is then forwarded to the number you are calling.  There’s nothing about this that doesn’t work- it’s just a little weird.  I wish there was a way to call your Google Voice number and then get forwarded from there.

I have noticed the occasional lag when talking over Google Voice.  It’s not horrible and is not a reason to avoid the service, but it is noticeable at times.

I like the call screening feature, but I haven’t figured out a way to use it when my phone is connected via Bluetooth in my truck.  I end up trying to wrestle my phone out of my pocket, so I can press 1 to accept the call before it goes to voicemail.  I may have to disable call screening.

The biggest hole I have found in the Google Voice experience is the inability to click on a phone number in an email or text message and have the number dialed via Google Voice.  Many of the numbers I dial are contained in emails or text messages.  When you click on a number that way, it is dialed with your actual cell phone number, and not your Google Voice number.  There may not be a way around this, but it is an issue if you want to keep your actual cell number secret, so people will use your Google Voice number.  And even more so after you’ve ported the number that everyone knows to Google Voice.

Would I Do It Again?

So, knowing what I know now, would I still port my long-time cell number to Google Voice?

It’s sort of a tough call.  I really don’t like the kludginess of making calls, particularly the inability to click on a number and dial via Google Voice.  On the other hand, there is a lot to love about the all-in Google Voice experience.

I think I’d do it again.  In no small part because I believe Google Voice is a work in progress that will get better and better.  At some point- and I hope it’s sooner rather than later- I expect Google will become a direct carrier.

I hope so.  Sign me up Google, I’m ready.

Any Port in a Storm: A Silent Fly in Google Voice’s Otherwise Lovely Ointment


I was finally able to port my cell number to Google Voice during last week’s test period (the porting feature is now open to everyone).  Without going into a lot of detail, let me just say that Google Voice is an awesome (and free) service that anyone even remotely interested in using tech to increase ease and efficiency should be using.  In fact, I’ll port my last remaining land line as soon as land lines can be ported directly to Google Voice.

First, a little about my porting experience, and then a serious problem that greatly detracts from the all-in Google Voice experience.  Anyone from Google Voice who is reading this, feel free to skip to the Sound of Silence section below, where I eloquently describe the problem I desperately want you to fix.

Long and Winding Road

ATT is my cell provider.  I am still under contract.  When I walked into the local and empty ATT store the other morning, I had a plan.  A mighty and logically flawless plan, that initially went nowhere.  I told the customer rep that I wanted to port out my cell number to Google Voice, and then port in my second land line to ATT and have that number become my new cell number.  In essence, I wanted to swap out phone numbers and keep everything else in-place.  Easy peasy.

“Oh, hell no.”  Was the gist of the response.  To port out my number would require me to cancel my contract and pay a fat early termination fee.  I was told I could plead my case to customer service, if I wanted to call the toll free number (611).

So I did. And, at least by ATT standards, it went really well.  ATT was very cooperative (I did mention, very nicely, that if I had to pay an early termination fee, I’d surely move all of our lines to Verizon).  Without too much difficulty, ATT was on board.  I was able to start the port-in process for my land line immediately (you need the number and your account number with the current land line carrier).  Porting a land line into ATT Wireless takes 5 days, but once I had the port underway, ATT removed my then current cell number from the contract, so I could port it to Google Voice.  That process takes around 24 hours, and is seamless.

Once I confirmed, via the web site ATT provides when you port-in a number, that the port-in of my land line was complete, I stopped back by the local and again empty ATT store and switched out my SIM card.  When I got there, the basic ATT account system did not yet show my ported-in number, but we were able to find it once my customer rep called the ATT Porting Department.  It took a while to get this all sorted out, but overall it was really easy.

So, finally, I’m ready to experience the full-on Google Voice life.  Not so fast.

The Sound of Silence

I ran home, eager to configure my Google Voice account.

When I went to my Google Voice page, my cell number was already in place (you’ll still get calls from your old Google Voice number for 3 months, to help you make the transition), and automatically removed from my list of  forwarding phones.

This is when the clouds began to darken.

When I tried to add my new cell number as a forwarding phone (which is mandatory if you actually want to receive calls on your cell phone), Google Voice could not ring my cell phone to verify it (verification via a 2-digit code is part of the configuration process).  Nothing happened.  I tried teens of times.  Then I tried to call my cell number from Google Voice (using another forwarding phone), so I could hear what happens.  It rang and rang on the calling end, and then eventually went to something similar to a busy signal.

After much hacking, I was finally able to verify my new cell number by forwarding my cell number via my cell phone (and not via Google Voice) to another number.  I tried many variations of this hack before I got one to work.

But even now, when someone calls my Google Voice number, my cell phone does not ring.  Silence.  Initially, I could not receive text messages via the Messages app on my cell phone (you can always get them via the Google Voice app, but when fully functional, the text messages also show up as native texts in your cell phone text app).

So I called ATT last night.  Again, the people I spoke to tried to help.  One lady told me she thought it was an LRN issue, as my LRN was from a prior carrier.  She fixed it, and said to wait until today and try again (because the changes they make “roll out” into ATT’s system on a staggered basis).

Today I am able to get text messages on my phone.  But my cell phone still does not ring when people call my Google Voice number.  My other phones and Google Talk ring fine, but not my cell phone.


So I tried again to call my cell phone, using Google Voice and another forwarding phone.  After 14 rings on the calling side, my cell phone rings.  14!!!  No one is going to wait that long.  Equally as troublesome, I never hear the cell phone ring when people call my Google Voice number, presumably because the call goes to voicemail long before that (though, according to many users in the Google Voice forums, it still takes too long to go to voicemail).

I have no idea how to fix this, but it makes Google Voice virtually unusable for me, which is a pity given all the work I’ve done to set it up.  And the fact that my cell number is now ported to Google Voice.

I’ve  researched this issue extensively online, and there does not seem to be a known fix within the user community, even though this problem or some variation thereof is pretty common.

Hey Google, can you please shed some light on this, for all of us?  You have to answer our call before we can answer yours.

Apple Faces a Revolution at the Crossroads

It will be interesting to see if the rising number of denunciations and protests over Apple’s banning of Google Voice apps will have any effect.  During last night’s podcast, I said I thought Apple was an extremely arrogant company and asked my podcast mates if they could think of an example where Apple reversed a decision due to popular outcry.  We couldn’t think of any good examples.

Meanwhile, the protests continue.

Today, Mike Arrington quit the iPhone, expressly as a result of the Google Voice debacle.  I applaud Mike for doing that.  I don’t often- or even usually- agree with him, so if he and I are on the same side of an issue, we must be right.  Stated simply, it’s foolish and unnecessary for Apple to side against its customers and Google.  If people are forced to choose between Apple and Google, Apple may be surprised at how many puppies run to the other side of the room.

And there’s more at stake here than meets the eye.  While the App Store/Google Voice thing is important on its own, I believe it is a barometer for Apple’s future.

Do the right thing, and everyone falls immediately back in love with all things Apple.  Stay the inconsistent and illogical course and this issue could be the beginning of the end of Apple’s golden era.  You can’t call yourself a hero and act like a villain.  You can’t be the people’s choice if you don’t choose the people.

One interesting subplot to all this:  Google wins either way.  Think about it.

Harry McCracken believes Apple may come around.  I hope he’s right, but I’m not so sure.  The price cut Harry mentions was a nice, but isolated gesture.  I suspect Apple views the wall it has erected around the App Store as more sacred- and more profitable- than what amounted to a glorified coupon (recall that the credit Apple handed out was good for future, marked up, purchases).  To reverse course now on the Google Voice decision- even though it would be the smart and just move- would set the stage for more second guessing of Apple’s erratic app approval/rejection process.  And we know that the one thing that Apple loves almost as much as money is control.

The most amazing thing about this whole app approval brouhaha is how easy it could be fixed.  All Apple has to do is three simple things:

1. Be at least semi-transparent.  Tell people what is going on.  In life and business, a little explanation goes a long way.

2. Tell the truth.  Don’t speak in riddles or half-truths.  Don’t let ATT take the blame if the blame is not theirs and toss them in the grease if it is.  And don’t hide behind the duplicate functionality canard.  If you simply want to control the experience to the detriment of customers, Google or whomever else, just have the stones to say so.

3. Be consistent.  Inconsistency is the great motivator of unrest.  Apple has been the model of inconsistency as far as the App Store goes.

That’s how to make it better.  But it could also get worse.

Lately we have been seeing more and more signs that Apple is struggling with the jailbreaking thing.  First came the warning that jailbreaking could result in terrorism.  Now we read an official support article warning folks about the risks they assume by choosing the apps they want to install, rather than letting Apple decide for them.  I wonder if the great irony that it is precisely Apple’s iron grip on the app approval process that is driving people to jailbreak their iPhones is lost on Apple?

So for now Apple tries to educate us away from jailbreaking.  What’s next, when that doesn’t work?  Will Apple start disabling jailbroken iPhones?  Or perhaps take a page from the record industry’s book of bad strategy and try to litigate the cat back into the bag?

As you can see, this issue is bigger than just our desire to have Google Voice apps on our iPhones.  Apple and its customers have come to a crossroad, and we need to at least try to point Apple toward the right path.  We need to continue to express our concerns, displeasure, questions, etc.

We have looked out for Apple, now Apple needs to look out for us- by siding with the legitimate desires of the customers who made Apple what it is today.

And who will make it what it will be tomorrow.

How I Read the ATT Comment on Google Voice

Here’s how I read the latest on Apple and/or ATT’s absurd and utterly annoying rejection of Google Voice apps.

The ATT statement doesn’t say that ATT- or the requirements of ATT’s agreement with Apple- is not the reason why Google Voice apps have been banned.  It simply says that ATT does not manage the App Store and is not part of the approval process.  There are four ways to interpret this:

1. That Apple decided on its own to ban the Google Voice apps for some inexplicable Apple reason, which seems to be what ATT would like us to conclude.  This could be accurate, given that other phones on the ATT network have Google Voice apps.  If so, the torchy mob should immediately descend on Apple’s castle and demand a straight forward explanation.  Don’t buy the duplicative feature canard.  All kinds of duplicative apps are allowed.  It’s only the one that would most improve the iPhone experience that is not.

2. That the agreement between Apple and ATT requires, either directly or indirectly, that apps that might take money out of ATT’s pocket be excluded.  This would be consistent with the wi-fi-only Skype limitation.  The rub here is that we’d be talking about SMS charges only, and there are tons of apps- Beejive for example- that already allow you to send free text messages.

3. That Apple decided to ban the Google Voice apps because it knows that ATT’s network is crappy and fears that any significant additional load will grind things to a halt.  This could also explain the Skype limitation, and the crippled SlingPlayer (though nothing can explain Sling’s ridiculous $30 app money-grab).

4. That Apple decided to ban the Google Voice apps because it gets a share of the money that ATT makes, and Apple wants to squeeze an extra dollar out of the faithful.  I would find this the most irritating.

It may just be that ATT sees the writing on the wall as far and the iPhone exclusive gravy train goes and is tired of getting kicked around every time someone has a bad iPhone experience.  Maybe ATT decided to try its hand at posturing by press release, and is feeling out Apple in the first round with these vague and non-inflammatory jabs.

We may never know the real story.

What we do know is that we want our Google Voice app, and our Google Latitude app, and all kinds of other apps that have not and may not see the light of day.  The more we run into these walls of nonsense, the more likely we are to go rogue and jailbreak our iPhones.  I’ve never seriously considered doing that.

Until now.

One Bad Apple Does Spoil the Whole Bunch of Apps

So I write a happy, hopeful post about how Apple is going to save the tablet space and maybe even break Amazon’s stranglehold on the e-book market.  Then I walk all aglow out to the garage for my nightly treadmill run and The Wire watching, certain that the tech world was a wonderful place.

A couple of hours later I come back, all sweaty and tired and sad about the beat down that Bunny Colvin took at the end of Season 3, and read that Apple is removing Google Voice apps from the App Store.

Are you shitting me?  People have made careers out of crapping on Microsoft for making people spend 10 minutes downloading and installing a third party browser.  Where is the outrage here?

Look, I too have worried about Google taking over the world, and all of our data with it.  Shoot, it was just the other day that I finally capitulated to Google, and admitted that eventually it will contain my entire life.  That was after I fell in heavy like with Google Voice, but before I realized how cool and useful Google Latitude (another app that Apple has apparently squashed for no legitimate reason) can be.

Either Apple has lost its collective mind or it is once again doing ATT’s dirty work.  I’m guessing it’s the latter.

Here’s the thing, Apple.  It’s not ATT or any other carrier that put the iPhone where it is.  It’s the loyal, evangelical, tech-loving customers, many of whom really want to use Google Voice, Google Latitude and all kinds of other apps that ATT- the same ATT that can’t get it together enough to accommodate MMS and tethering- might not like.  Oh, and the developers, who write the apps that give Apple such a commanding lead in the apps race.

If ATT’s network can’t handle the demand of the greatest mobile phone ever made, then why in the world did Apple give ATT the exclusive for so long?  And doesn’t that agreement require ATT to have some level of network capacity?  Maybe I’m missing something, but this seems backwards to me.  If ATT can’t (or won’t) play ball, then let the other carriers in the game so there can be network sharing.  And if it’s not ATT, then I hope someone at ATT says so, so the torchy mob can run howling back to Apple’s door.

This is messed up.

I don’t care that Apple and/or ATT nixed the SlingPlayer app.  Sling’s ridiculous $30 app price makes me pull against them, and I have a Slingbox.  I don’t care all that much that I can only use the Skype app via wi-fi.

But Google?  Not only can you not survive on the internet without giving Google its propers, but even Google, who is bent on internet domination, gives almost all of its stuff away.  Google ought to start charging ATT every time an ATT customer uses Google’s network, and see how that works out.

Apple needs to immediately reverse course on this, and accept not only the third party Google Voice apps, but also Google’s own Voice and Latitude apps.

One caveat: I am assuming that Google isn’t going along with this nonsense or suppressing its objections in some harebrained scheme to give Android devices some perceived advantage. Outside of that, I think there should be a general uprising until Apple comes to its senses and, if necessary, tells ATT what’s what.

In sum, this is stupid and needs to be fixed.