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Earlier this week, Reuters reported that Google has settled a patent lawsuit over the visual voice-mail patent owned by Klausner Technologies.
Google Voice adds several new features: automated transcriptions of voice-mail messages, the ability to receive SMS text messages sent to your Google Voice number on a mobile device, and the ability to send SMS messages from your Web-based Google Voice in-box.
"Now that voice mail is text, everything is searchable," said Walker. He also noted that voice-mail recordings can be embedded in any Web page, a feature that's sure to provide countless hours of amusement as embarrassing messages receive public airing.
Walker acknowledged that Google Voice's automated transcriptions aren't perfect. The service indicates that by varying the shading of transcribed text, with darker words representing a higher level of confidence in the accuracy of the speech-to-text transcription. At some point, Google will probably tune its voice-recognition algorithm to recognize words in other languages and accents, but for the moment, voice-mail transcriptions are intended for speakers of U.S.-inflected English only.
Perhaps the most broadly appealing new feature of Google Voice is the ability to place free domestic calls in the United States and low-rate international calls to select countries. Walker demonstrated a call to the United Kingdom that was billed at 2 cents per minute, through Google Checkout. That's comparable to the price Skype charges to call the United Kingdom from the United States.
In addition, Google Voice provides easy conference calling. People simply call your Google Voice number and you can add them to a call in progress.
According to Walker, Google doesn't have a current plan to monetize the service. His mission, he said, was to make Google users happy. Google Voice may also make some telecom companies happy by increasing the use of billable SMS messages.
However, just as ads have found their way into other Google properties where they hadn't existed previously, ads may find a home in Google Voice in a year or two.
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