In case you didn't already know, Google has a phone feature called Google Voice. Want a local telephone number without having to change your phone plan? Want it to incorporate text messaging and nab transcripts of your voicemails? Ring all your phones simultaneously, but only during the times of day you specify? Yes, please! This week, Google announced plans to incorporate this voice technology with its online chat feature.

An article from PC magazine describes the user-friendly nature of the new service. Open your Gmail, click on a contact, and choose between text chat, video chat, or "call phone." So far, the services are free for domestic calls, and Google plans to charge a nominal fee for international calls (around 2 cents per minute for European landlines, for instance).

The Gmail telephone feature will offer users several options. First, they could carry on the call directly through the Gmail interface, without having to open any other browsers or software programs. The second option would work much the same way as Google Voice: the system will first phone your mobile phone and then, when you answer, initiate the call to your contact's mobile. 

PC World also describes the new feature, reminding readers that you will not need a Google Voice account or phone number to use the new Chat interface to place calls. Both magazines speculate that the incorporation of a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) will directly challenge Skype and Vonage, and PC World states that the new feature's launch "is likely the result of Google's recent acquisitions of VoIP provider Gizmo5 and VoIP codec developer Global IP solutions."

PC World says the incorporation of voice and text messaging with e-mail and chat will make Gmail an indispensable productivity app. In an effort to draw in new customers for the service, PC Magazine says Google plans to install free phones in airports to test out the Voice service.

See also:

Eco-friendly phones

Google Voice: Phone calls coming to Gmail
New VoIP feature will incorporate e-mail, chat, voicemail and is expected to compete with Skype.