The missing “let me be clear” line: No, Google isn’t killing Google Voice

Google did not axe Google Voice today. Sunday’s USA Today column didn’t say it would—it covered Google’s scheduled shutdown, effective today, of a protocol that other Internet-calling apps had used to connect to Google Voice—but many of you thought it did.

Google Voice Play Store iconMy first reaction on getting questions like “Is Google Voice being discontinued?” was to think “Gah! If that was really happening, don’t you think I would have said so right at the top of the story?”

My second: “Google, this is your own damn fault for neglecting the service for so long that people now expect the worst.”

My third reaction was a grudging acceptance that I should have foreseen readers skipping over my description of how Google Voice was shutting down the “XMPP” support that had allowed third-party VoIP clients to connect (admit it, you skimmed past that jargon just now) and instead seeing only the words “Google Voice” and “shutting down.”

That realization could have led me to write the column with fault-tolerance in mind: If there’s a way readers could get the wrong idea, throw in a “let me be clear” graf to disabuse them of that incorrect assumption. A little extra defensive writing then would have saved time since spent answering nervous reader e-mails and story comments.

I should know that by now, but apparently I’m still figuring out this writing thing after some 20 years of doing it for a living.

In other news: The Android Hangouts app still can’t place VoIP calls from your GV number (a capability the iOS version has had since October), officially leaving Android users in the lurch. Heck of a job, Google.

Weekly output: Jawbone Up, Google Voice, international phone use

It was another week that ended with a couple of stories filed but not yet posted (look for a long item on the Disruptive Competition Project in the next day or two about the state of competition in browser layout engines). But it’s not every week that sees me finishing it on the other side of the Atlantic–I’m spending the next four days in Barcelona to cover the Mobile World Congress show.

Discovery Jawbone Up review2/21/2013: Jawbone Up Logs Your Days and Nights, Discovery News

I took an unusually long time to try this activity-monitoring wristband–starting after CES. That leisurely pace allowed me to note the recent arrival of a similar background exercise-tracking option in Android’s Google Now app. Something like that won’t replace this wristband’s scrutiny of your sleep, but it could prove good enough for reporting whether you get off your duff often enough.

There are some other devices like this coming out over the next few months–the Fitbit Flex and Withings’ Smart Activity Tracker come to mind–so hopefully I can do a follow-up review of them.

2/24/2012: How do I place a call from my Google Voice number?, USA Today

My annoyance at having two Google Voice calls via Gmail leave the other person sitting there in puzzled silence led to this cheat-sheet guide to dialing out from your GV number. The column concludes with a tip based on a reader’s query on my Facebook page–yes, I really do read the comments there.

On Sulia, I mocked HTC’s new One smartphone for including more resolution than people can see, then shipping an outdated version of Android; called out MBL’s At Bat app for once again not letting fans pay to watch their local teams online; questioned the price of Google’s new Chromebook Pixel laptop; and wondered if news publishers aren’t delighted about all the ink and pixels spent on Sony’s substance-starved introduction of the PlayStation 4

The video-calling mess

I’ll be on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show at 1 this afternoon to talk about Microsoft’s impending purchase of Skype for the you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me sum of $8.5 billion. Like, I suspect, all of you, I agree that the folks in Redmond are spending a ridiculous amount of money. But I also think that Microsoft–which can clearly afford this purchase–just might be able to knock some sense into Skype and possibly even the broader market for Internet video calling.

I start with the features I’d want to see in an ideal video-telephony system: It would work not just on computers running multiple operating systems but also such gadgets as smartphones, tablets and even HDTVs; its mobile version would support both WiFi and 3G; it would allow free device-to-device calls (I can live with charging for premium services like video-conferencing or international voice calls); most of my friends wouldn’t need to get a new account to use it.

The choices we have now don’t match up that ideal, and Skype is the leading offender. While it’s long been available for Mac, Windows and Linux machines (setting aside the much-disliked interface of its new Mac version) and can be used on a wide variety of HDTVs, its mobile support has been far spottier.

Skype works well on the iPhone over either 3G or WiFi, but there’s still no iPad-optimized version. That seems a little dumb at this point.

Skype’s Android support looks a lot dumber. Voice calling is was until recently limited to WiFi connections only (if you don’t didn’t have a Verizon Wireless phone) or and remains 3G only (if you do subscribe to VzW). That last limit comes courtesy of a weird little partnership Skype saw fit to ink with that carrier, combined with the Skype Android developers’ apparent inability to support two flavors of bandwidth in one app. Oh, and video calling on Android? That’s “coming soon”–but only to Verizon 4G phones.

Apple’s FaceTime seems to have been developed with the same ignorance of the term “network effect.” Notwithstanding Steve Jobs’ promises that Apple would make this an “open standard,” FaceTime remains confined to the iPhone, the iPad 2 and Macs–make that, recent Macs running an Intel processor.

Apple’s “open standard” pledge looks as devoid of meaning than the average campaign promise–almost as if Jobs just made that up on the spot.

Oh, and on mobile devices FaceTime only runs on WiFi–even though it will gladly use a 3G connection laundered through an iPhone’s Personal Hotspot feature.

Finally, there are Google’s intersecting Internet-telephony options. Gmail provides great video calling from within your browser (available for Windows, Mac and Linux). But on your phone, Google Voice doesn’t provide Internet-based calling–you still need to use your standard phone service to open the conversation. Google Talk video calling is confined to a handful of Android tablets. Although Google just announced that it will bring that feature to Android phones, it will require the 2.3 version of Android–which Google’s own stats show has only made it to 4 percent of Android devices.

There are other options, such as the Qik app bundled on some front-camera-enabled Android phones, but they all suffer from a far smaller installed base and the subsequent problem of getting relatives to sign up with yet another new video-calling service.

Microsoft has its share of issues, but it does seem to understand the relevance of market share. I would expect that the company that’s shipped capable, well-regarded versions of its Bing search app for the iPhone, the iPad and Android would at least try to get Skype to feature parity across those platforms–and, in the bargain, bring it to the Xbox. And if Apple and Google finally take notice and step up their own efforts, so much the better.

Besides, would you rather have seen Facebook buying Skype?

(Edited 5/26, 10:09 a.m. to correct an errant description of Skype’s Android client.)