Google's melding of voice and mail offers lessons to Cisco and Microsoft

Google's approach to unified communications is friendlier to mobile users than heftier business offerings

Microsoft and Cisco may just have an unexpected competitor to their respective unified communications offerings: Google, with its newly announced integration of Google Voice with Gmail, is effectively opening up UC to the mobile masses -- for free, no less. If the Gmail masses respond, we will know more about why UC has failed to catch fire in the enterprise. You can bet that Cisco and Microsoft will be watching.

If you missed the news, Gmail users are now able to call their contacts directly on their phones via VoIP. That's on top of the ability to communicate with peers via email, chat, and video using a single Google sign-in, not to mention being able to collaborate on projects via Google Docs, which is just a click away.

[ Also on ShoreTel brings unified communications to the iPhone | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

Sure, Google's package o' communications is predictably less robust than what Microsoft or Cisco have in their UC arsenals. But Google has a couple of notable advantages: mobility and openness. Enterprise-oriented UC products typically require fat, closed clients and proprietary hardware -- a formula that results in rich sets of features, but might miss what users really want.

With Google, all you need is a browser to get at your video, voice, chat, and email, as well as your Google Docs. You could even be running Linux. Further, you get it all with a single sign-in. Thus, UC on the go -- be it from your laptop, tablet, or smartphone -- becomes a viable possibility.

Sweetening the deal, Google is leveraging its cloud power so that users don't need to worry about storing and managing all that UC-related data. This value proposition that might eventually lead businesses to look to Google for their unified communications. By the time they're ready, their employees could already know that they actually want it.

For now, though, Google's dip into UC is strictly for consumers and perhaps small businesses. But Google has demonstrated it's more than capable of creating products that consumers love and then packaging them for business (as well as schools and the government), while stealing customers from the big names in the process.

This story, "Google's melding of voice and mail offers lessons to Cisco and Microsoft," was originally published at Get the first word on important tech news with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.