The holy grail of internet voice calling

October 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

For years now, people have been trying to figure out a way to make a cell phone on the cheap (without paying for a plan)  by using an iPod touch to make calls over a wireless connection. There’s even iPod touch cases that have attempted to solve this issue.

The most prominent hack has been to use third party apps to connect to a Google Voice account, which will allow you to make and receive phone calls via your Google Voice number on your iPod touch or iPad.

Just this past week, Google quietly made all of those hacks obsolete.

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 11.14.52 AM

Google has been working for some time to unify all of it’s messaging apps, but this latest move actually surprised me. When Hangouts debuted last year as Google+ messenger, it made sense that eventually it would be combined with Google Talk. This combination is what became Hangouts. With the old Google Talk plugin, you could make calls from your computer, but you’d never been able to make calls via the same app on a mobile device. It was a web-only feature. When Talk combined with Messenger, it lost the ability to make calls, but Google said it would return, and I figured it would return on the web version, as it had been with Talk.

This latest update makes me thing that Google may have even more changes up their sleeve for combining all of the functionality of Google Voice into the Hangouts app.

For now, here’s how it works:

When someone calls your Google Voice number, your device will actually ring. This freaked me out the other day when someone called. My cell phone was ringing, but I was hearing the Hangouts ring coming from somewhere in my office at the same time. To answer the call, tap the notification at the top of the screen.


I wish they had a “slide to answer” like they do on Android phones or an “answer” screen like they have for video calls on hangouts, but it is what it is, and I’m sure it will change at some point.

Once you tap the notification, you’re dropped into the phone call. If you don’t have headphones connected, it works just like a speaker phone. The microphone will transmit and the sound will come out of the iPad speaker. I haven’t had a chance to test it with wired headphones with a mic (or without), or a bluetooth headset, so I’m not sure how those work with it.


You have the options there to mute your microphone, speakers, and pull up the dial pad, and also to end the call.

On the other side, to make a call, you tap the phone icon in the upper right corner of the app, and the dial pad will come up. You can then punch in a number, or choose from your contacts on the device, just like if you were using the iPhone’s native dialer.

There is not option to text for now. You still have to go into the Google Voice app to do that, but if your contacts are on Google+, you can always message them via the Hangouts app. With all of the consolidation, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if Google added the functionality to the Hangouts app in the pretty near future.

For now, all of this is free. Of course, Google said the same thing about calling with Talk, and then extended the free calls and kept extending them. Who knows if this is a service they’ll ever charge for. Even if they did, it may still be a cheaper option than having a full on cell phone plan, especially if you live and work in places where wifi is abundant.

I have a plan in my head about getting our entire school district to start using this. Teachers could actually use Google Voice instead of classroom phones and we might be able to get rid of some of the cost and infrastructure associated with putting a phone in every classroom. We’ll see if that becomes a reality, but a tech director can dream, can’t he?


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