I’ve been a user and fan of Google Voice since it was still GrandCentral. From its humble beginnings of a “phone number for life” to ring your other phones to full desktop calling and texting, it’s been an indispensable product for my daily use. Two days ago, Google finally merged the functions of Voice into Hangouts, its messaging product. What they’ve done is something more disruptive to the mobile phone industry than anything any other company has done in recent memory.
Consider this: if you use the calling and texting features of Hangouts, all of your calls and texts are free to everyone in the US and Canada. If you do international calling, they have rates as low as a penny per minute to many major cities. Just like that, Google has completely destroyed the idea of paying for either minutes or texts. This may explain why so many carriers have been restricting data plans.
But Google isn’t just giving you a way to run out your cap. They’ve also effectively equipped every single Android phone with WiFi calling and texting without any carrier-specific modifications. If you live in an area where the service is good, you can grab T-Mobile’s $30 prepaid plan and use only Hangouts for calling and texting. Even when the 4G allotment runs out, they still give you unlimited 2G/3G data after that. Cell service has never been cheaper.
While everyone salivates over the idea of larger iPhones, a smartwatch with no well-defined purpose, and payments with your phone that don’t eliminate the pain point of carrying a card, Google has basically forced mobile operators into a situation where their cash cows, calling and texting, have been killed in a back alley. Now they’re all dumb pipe operators, just giving you a chunk of wireless data to use as you see fit. You could even use a WiFi-only device with no cell plan at all and do most of what a cell phone can where you have coverage. That level of disruption is far larger than anything coming from Cupertino’s Reality Distortion Field™.