Sunday, April 01, 2007

One Number Does It All from GrandCentral

If you are like me you have too many phone numbers where you can be reached. One for the home, office, cell, and maybe a home-office number or a personal cell phone (humorous video). You never know where someone will call you or where to call someone. Most of the time you reach voicemail and not a real person.

For years telcos and equipment providers have been praising the virtues of fixed/mobile convergence (FMC) as a way to always reach someone. It will allow us to have one number no matter what device we use. Calls can find us no matter if we are at home, work, in the car, or on the yacht. My wireless and VoIP provider has yet to offer me this service. Yeah they have call forwarding and simultaneous ring, but it is a kludge for a true one number service.

Now there is a company that offers true FMC and they are not even a real phone company. GrandCentral offers true FMC to any phone through a single phone number. You can unify up to 6 numbers. Currently the service is free because it is in beta, but once it is released they will offer two numbers for free then charge for three or more numbers.

GrandCentral allows users to import their contacts and assign rules on where to route the call depending on who is calling. That way you can have your mother in-law go right to voice mail or an important client ring all phones. There are coarse settings for time of day. You can group contacts and have all contact of that group call certain phones with specific greetings.

GrandCentral brings back a feature that has gone the way of the answering machine: call screening. Users can listen to a caller as they are recording a message and decide whether to answer the call. Imagine how many people will start using call screening as their primary filter.

With GrandCentral you have one voicemail box that sends messages to any desired e-mail address and even send SMS alerts. Messages can be retrieved through GrandCentral's excellent user interface, any phone, or e-mail inbox.

Ever want to record a call or a portion of a call? Perhaps you are in the car and a client is giving you his address. You can fumble for a pen and paper to write it down while driving 70 mph or hit "4" on your phone and record the address for later playback.

One of the best features that I enjoy is the ability to transfer a call from one phone to another mid-call. Just hit "*" and select the phone to transfer the call and keep on talking. I often transfer calls from my cell phone to work phone when I arrive back in the office.

GrandCentral can even flag calls as spam and either send them to voice mail or play a recorded announcement. For a product in beta of its first release, it is very feature rich and stable. I have not had a single glitch with it in the few weeks I have been using it. I wish that I would receive more calls through it, but I have been somewhat reluctant to tell all of my associates of yet another number for me.

Although the service has several valuable features now, I would still like to see a few new features as they grow the product:

  1. Synchronized address book with Outlook or other contact managers. Importing is only a temporary solution.
  2. Greater granularity on how to handle incoming calls. I would like to see better time-of-day rules.
  3. Integration with Skype. Integration of Skype contacts may also solve address book integration issues. I would love having incoming calls see if I was present on Skype then ring it according to my rules. Imagine managing the GrandCentral inbox through Skype. Maybe I will have to wait for eBay to purchase GrandCentral before seeing those features.

Integration with Skype would make GrandCentral even more attractive to eBay. I can see many eBay merchants adding a "call me" button to their web site or eBay auctions because it allows them not to post a specific number.

Combine all of these great features with a well implemented user interface and it is no wonder that the company has been receiving rave reviews from David Pogue of the New York Times, CNET, NPR's Future Tense, Fox, and many other publications. GrandCentral has brought us the promise of fixed/mobile convergence without even being a phone company so why can't your phone company do the same?