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Christian Nimsky's Weblog

Droid + Verizon + Google Voice = Great Potential, But Think Before Porting

Christian Nimsky

droid_gvoice.jpg

I was one of the people that got really spun up about the Droid.  Why? partly I wasn’t going the AT&T route for an iPhone (every iPhone user I talk to sounds terrible and/or the call drops) but mostly it was because Verizon finally had a strong Android handset and Android interfaces closely with Google Voice. 

I like Google Voice.  A lot.  I am one of those people eagerly waiting for some of the FCC smoke to clear so I can port my number into Google Voice.  That’s where the Verizon + Google Voice + Moto Droid landscape is close to great, but not quite there.  And the shortcoming in my opinion is around how Verizon and Google have coordinated the launch of the Droid but have omitted Google Voice from their story to the 100,000 people who have bought this phone, some of whom are interested in using Google Voice with Android on Verizon.

If you are thinking of porting your number to Verizon with an idea that you’d port it later to Google Voice, you might want to wait.  My thoughts as to why after the jump…

A Complicated Issue

The Droid rocks - enough people have described this that I’m not going to try to review it.  Verizon’s network is consistent and fast.  For most of the 100,000 Droid purchasers that is probably enough.  Some fraction of that population is interested in Google Voice.  And when that smaller group jumps from their old carrier to Verizon to get this iPhone competitor with Android and Google Voice integration they will have a question:

While I wait to port my number to Google Voice, should I port it to Verizon in the meantime?

It’s a question that attempts to resolve both Google’s ambiguous messaging about their intentions for allowing inbound number porting as well as Verizon’s policy for allowing out-bound number porting for users who do not wish to terminate their subscription to Verizon.

This gets complicated and I don’t know how to share it more succinctly.  Verizon can’t fully answer the question, but I don’t think it is their fault.  Here’s what I know thus far:

  • Google Voice has hinted at allowing number porting sometime soon, and even let Arrington over at TechCrunch do a one-off port of his cell number into their service. 
  • Verizon announces the Droid just in time to give AT&T some holiday competition.  Combined Google/Verizon marketing muscle vault Android further into the mainstream consideration set.
  • Google announces that you can Use Google Voice With Your Existing Number however this is basically a call forward on busy/no-answer scheme, effectively giving a limited featureset to users who won’t ditch their old cell #.  Features that get omitted in this configuration include call filtering, ringing multiple phones and some SMS functionality that differentiate Google Voice from other services like PhoneTag, YouMail and Ribbit Mobile.
  • Droid launches.  100,000 or more people buy it, including me.  I call Verizon to ask, “hey can I port my cel # into your system and then port it out again when GVoice allows me to port it to them?”
    • Verizon gets confused and wasn’t prepared for this question, however tries really hard to help. 
    • I was told by one rep that their system tends to look at porting a number out to any other service as a contract termination.
    • I told the rep the situation would be that I wouldn’t be trying to cancel, however I would be trying to port my number to Google to use the integrated GVoice capability with Verizon.
    • The rep told me to hold on; that he had an idea to try it as a number change so the Verizon number could be freed up to port yet NOT cancel my subscription to Verizon itself.  I appreciate this creativity.  Moreover he kicked this up to a tech support person who actually tried to look up Google in a system of other carriers that they could port to.  According to Verizon, Google’s not there - at least not right now.
    • Verizon didn’t know what else to do and said that I should contact Google to ask. Google doesn’t make this easy; their Google Voice blog has a link to “Send us a message” that goes to their general help forum.  This irks me because I feel the number porting issue is of a different tier than just a specific software function that users might want to chat about in a forum.  Porting a number is a real issue with financial consequences and logistical considerations.

At this point I have two conclusions:

Conclusion 1 As A New Verizon Subscriber: I am not porting my number to Verizon until I see a clearer pathway to outbound porting.  I have no issues with Verizon but I fear that just changing my Verizon line from number1 to number2 will free up number1 into a general pool where anyone could grab it.  That process seems different than an explicit outbound port.  In the meantime I will likely need to use a park-and-forward service to hold the number until the situation with Google Voice clarifies a bit.

Conclusion 2 As A Google Voice User: I feel that Google’s attempt to entice users to “Use Google Voice With Our Own Number” is a confusing message and that they need to be more explicit.  I appreciate the intent but it confuses users and it muddies their competitive position relative to companies like PhoneTag and Ribbit Mobile. 

I will get on my soapbox for a second as both a product and marketing guy…Put simply, just talk to me.  Some people call it customer-focused rollout, etc. but it boils down to this: Just tell me what your intentions are and I can make decisions from there.  Not telling me causes me to hedge, wait to adopt and get frustrated with you.  It lowers my trust in you.  As you deploy products that integrate deeper into my life, like phone service, you need to earn my trust whether or not your model is fremium, ad supported or otherwise.

We’re entering an era where the level of customization offered by platforms like Android is tremendously empowering to more and more consumers however the support systems aren’t there and that places more burden on the product / marketing functions to communicate clearly.  I know Google has a history of not foreshadowing features too far into the future however there is value in being explicit about tying your products like Google Voice and Android together - or not - so your users can make decisions. 

Talk to me, and I will trust you more.