Back at Google I/O 2017, Google announced that hands-free phone calling would come to the Home smart speaker. The feature finally arrived in August, but with one caveat - it could only use a randomly-chosen number or your Google Voice/Project Fi number.
Amazon's Alexa assistant is currently only talking to you, but you will soon be able to have Alexa reach out and touch someone else. Amazon is adding voice calling and messaging to its Alexa devices, which will most likely be available in time for the launch of the Echo Show on June 28th. This won't be connected to your phone number—it's a completely separate way of making and accepting voice calls.
Users of the messaging app Telegram may have noticed an update waiting for them today. This new version, 3.18, adds in five compression options for videos and the much-requested voice calls. But before we get too carried away on that last one, let's look at the changelog.
Of the two communication apps that Google announced at I/O, Duo surely seemed like the less interesting one. Video calls have been done again and again, and by now, if you have someone you want to talk to and see at the same time, odds are you already have your preferred way of doing that. But my last few days with Duo have shown me another side to the story. Duo isn't trying to revolutionize video calls, it just wants to approach them from a more modern perspective, one that builds on our smartphone-carrying habits, our needs for immediacy, and our disdain for complexity.
This week's updates are rolling out and Google Maps is among the first to bring something new to the screen. Version 9.20 doesn't seem to have any huge features, but there are some very notable improvements. A shortcut has been added to the Timeline to allow for quickly adding a place to your history, there's now a setting to control whether turn-by-turn instructions are given during voice calls, and Maps will now pair your reviews with any pictures you've submitted.
Placing a voice call over Google Hangouts is a nice way to save some money. If you and another user both rely on the service, you can start chatting with anyone regardless of where they live. But placing a call to a traditional phone number comes with a few more restrictions.
On the positive side, Google has announced that it's loosening a major one for users in India. Now residents there can place international voice calls using Hangouts.
While Indians can place calls to whichever countries they choose, only those placed to the US or Canada are free. Yet that alone makes the service a good option for the many people who need to stay in touch with family, friends, and co-workers in North America and the Indian subcontinent.
Good news if you make a lot of short calls overseas. Google had started offering the first minute of Hangouts calls to 25 countries at no charge. It only lasts through the end of 2014, but that's still not a bad deal.
Verizon pre-announced its VoLTE service a few weeks ago, but now it's rolling out. Customers can finally start taking advantage of VoLTE calling starting today—that assumes people still make phone calls, which is debatable. You need to have a supported device of course, and there are still a few caveats.
Nearly every phone sold in the last few years has a 4G LTE radio, but when you place a call it's still falling back to traditional 3G technologies. The all-IP voice technology known as VoLTE (voice over LTE) is still in the early days, but AT&T is beginning its rollout this very month on May 23rd.
Now that Facebook has paid $19 billion for WhatsApp, what's next for the mobile messaging app? Voice calls, apparently. According to TechCrunch, WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum announced the upcoming feature at Mobile World Congress earlier today. With this new functionality, the app will even more directly compete with the likes of Skype, KakaoTalk, Line, and Viber. Though, without video support, it still won't be an all-encompassing solution just yet.
Voice calls will be different from the voice messaging that WhatsApp already offers. The latter feature essentially functions as an audio text message, not anything remotely resembling a live conversation.