Google rolling out hands-free calling on Google Home to US and Canada

At Google I/O, the company announced that it was going to allow calling via Google Home. Now, Mountain View is rolling out the capability for the US and Canada in English, with Canadian French coming soon.

The device will permit calling to your Google contacts and businesses by voice alone. Alexa devices can call one another or users with Alexa apps on their smartphones. Microsoft’s Cortana has also promised calling capabilities via Skype. However, Google Home’s calling range is broader and more useful than the Amazon feature because it doesn’t require a corresponding app on the other end. Most business owners, for example, aren’t going to have Alexa devices to receive calls.

I wasn’t able to test the new calling feature because my Google Home told me, “Sorry, I can’t make calls yet.” Once it fully rolls out, users are supposed to be able to initiate calls by simply saying, “Hey Google, call…” Calls will then be routed over WiFi. Google says that “premium rate numbers as well as international numbers outside of the US and Canada are not supported unless you link your Project Fi or Google Voice account.”

Right now, call recipients will reportedly see “Unknown” or “No Caller ID.” But Google says that by the end of the year, your mobile number will be displayed.

Calling businesses appears to be more straightforward than calling contacts, which requires a setup process that, at least for iOS users, isn’t very intuitive. It’s not entirely clear right now what the user experience will be like when you call a business (but see the video below). For example, if users do a category search and then get a business result (“best pizza near me”), will they then be able to select and call a business, or will there need to be a second “search” where they ask to call that business by name?

It appears that Google Home will operate as a speaker phone, allowing the conversation to happen totally through the device.

Turning smart speakers into calling devices — and potentially replacing your landline (if you still have one) — has been an implicit use case since day one. Now we’re starting to see that capability roll out. Simplicity and ease of use matters; convoluted setup processes or the requirement to use stilted or magic phrases (see Alexa) will limit adoption.

Ultimately, however, it should be simple to do a voice search and then immediately call a business result. The implications for marketers and business owners are relatively obvious. Smart speakers and home assistants could become a major driver of calls, leads and conversions.

Postscript: It’s now live for me. I was unable to get it to call contacts but I did successfully call a variety of local businesses. I was not able to initiate a call from a general search result — “Mexican restaurants near me” (which provided a list of three results). However I could say “call the closest Mexican restaurant” and successfully call the business (which it identifies before putting the call through). Of course it works by mentioning the business name: “Call restaurant X . . .” — another reason to have your GMB listings claimed and accurate.

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