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Does Using Google Voice Have Tax Implications?

March 20th, 2010 1 comment
This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series Google Voice

And I mean that in a good way.

One of the most often overlooked tax rules, at least among technology workers, is that personal use of a work-provided cellphone is a taxable benefit and you’re supposed to pay the Gov’t if you do this. The problem is, almost everyone who has ever been issued a cellphone for work uses it for personal use and no one ever tracks it and pays the tax.

Although the IRS has recently (January 2010) indicated that they would hold off on enforcing their position outlined above, instead waiting for Congress to pass legislation clarifying the issue (see this FierceWireless article), waiting for Congress to actually do something could take the better part of a lifetime. So, whether or not you think the benefit should be taxable, it is. That’s the way the law is written. It essentially says that personal use of a work-provided cellphone is a taxable “fringe benefit,” and just like the use of a company car, it should be tracked and reported. But the paperwork to account of all the simple 30 second personal calls one makes is so ridiculously burdensome that no one does it.

And this is where I think Google Voice can help. Simply put, you can avoid using your work cellphone for personal calls if people call a Google Voice number that also reaches your desk phone. Or, if your work plan can designate some free numbers (Inner Circle, MyFaves, etc.), and your Google Voice number was one of them, then you could probably show that you weren’t consuming any chargeable minutes taking personal calls and will owe nothing. As the Wall Street Journal says in the article linked above, one of the IRS’ suggested rules says:

The IRS, in a notice issued this week, said employees could avoid tax liability if they showed proof they used personal cellphones for nonbusiness calls during work hours. The agency also could decide on a set number of phone minutes as “minimal personal use” that would be untaxed.

I would hope that showing that you used your own personal GV number would also count, if you could show that the company paid nothing for those minutes.

Anyway, I think it’s important that I point out the following warning. In big red letters.

I am not an accountant. I haven’t consulted with an accountant to write this. I may have no idea what I’m talking about. I could just be a babbling idiot. This is just an idea, not advice.

Or, as the Refreshments say in the song Nada:

There ain’t no moral to this story at all.
Anything I tell you very well could be a lie.
I’ve been away from the living, I don’t need to be forgiven,
I’m just waiting for that cold black soul of mine,
To come alive.

Good luck with your taxes.

Categories: Technology Tags: ,

Google Voice Web App for Windows Mobile

January 31st, 2010 1 comment
This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series Google Voice

The other day it was announced all over the web that Google Voice was finally available again for the iPhone, only as a web app instead of a true app. Google created a web page at http://m.google.com/voice rather than trying to get another app approved n the App Store. I checked it out on my iPhone (yes, I have one too — for work) and it is a great app. Although it doesn’t integrate fully with the iPhone contacts and dialer, it does present a decent dialer of its own and works very quickly and cleanly, initiating calls via the web and calling the handset back to complete the call.

Google says on the mobile web page that the m.google.com/voice page works for the iphone and for BlackBerries; the page identifies the phone type when you get to the page and directs you appropriately. So I wondered what would happen if I went there with a Windows Mobile browser like Opera.

Google Voice Mobile Screen

The result is a useful if ugly web page. The interface is limited to simple links, but all the necessary functionality is available. You can initiate a call by simply adding the number or selecting something from your Google contacts (it doesn’t integrate with your phone contacts). You can also see and manage any voicemail messages that you have.

By assigning Opera to a speed dial key on the phone and then assigning the Google page to a numbered bookmark, the page is only three clicks from any page on the phone. It isn’t quite iPhone convenient, but it works.

The downside to this implementation is that it’s dependent on a data connection, so you can’t use it where you have phone only service. This probably isn’t an issue for Verizon customers, but us T-Mobile and AT&T folks need to worry about these things.

Google Voice Mobile Connect Screen

Initiating a quick call is pretty simple and it does integrate with your contacts. It uses the callback method, so once you input a number or select a contact to call, you are presented with a list of your registered phones and the option to select the one to connect with the call. The iPhone app recognizes that it’s your iPhone, and once set up will always ring back to that number.

Please note that I have captured these screens from my Dash 3G with its tiny QVGA screen. I’m willing to bet that this app will look and work better on a larger touchscreen device. But at least those of us with non-touchscreen Windows Mobile smartphones finally have a workable Google Voice method besides GVoice Dialer. At the very least, it will give me another option to overcome the problems I’ve been having with GVoice Dialer connecting, particularly in noisy environments.

GVoiceDialer Trick

January 16th, 2010 1 comment
This entry is part 8 of 10 in the series Google Voice

I’ve written about GVoiceDialer before, and in spite of some problems, I’ve continued to use it, since it’s really the only Google Voice client available for non-touchscreen Windows Mobile phones.

However, I was growing increasingly frustrated with it because it would frequently fail to complete my calls. Usually the Google computerized voice would indicate that invalid keys had been pressed or some other error would occur. It was very unreliable. Well it finally occurred to me the other day what was happening. Most of the time when I had trouble, I was either outside in Boston, or on a train. When it worked, I was either at home or in my office. So I attributed the issue to signal strength. Maybe I wasn’t getting more than 1 bar when outside and the keys weren’t registering correctly.

In reality — it is the background noise! My house and office are quiet. Other locations where I typically use it aren’t . And I discovered that the background noise often prevents the Google system from recognizing the DTMF tones correctly. So the trick is to mute your phone as soon as GVoiceDialer starts the call and unmute once you hear the “this is a free call” announcement from Google. Since I’ve started this trick, GVoiceDialer has proven very reliable, regardless of where I use it.

This should be a feature built into the next version (assuming there is a next version). Muting of the phone’s mic when dialing.

But for now, it works much better if I remember to mute the phone.

Categories: Technology Tags: ,

Another Google Voice Option for Win Mo and My GVoice Dialer Issue

November 3rd, 2009 1 comment
This entry is part 7 of 10 in the series Google Voice

As I posted before, my current Dash 3G is a non-touchscreen, Windows Mobile Standard phone, so I don’t get to enjoy the really cool stuff made for the Windows Mobile Professional, touchscreen crowd. Like iDialer. And like another Google Voice dialer I ran across,One Dialer, which appears to be a full-featured Google Voice dialer with SMS and address book support. If anyone checks it out and cares to tell me how great it is, please do!

GVoice Dialer Issue

GVoice Dialer is a decent application, and probably the best bet for Windows Mobile Smartphone users. If it integrated better with the native dialer and address book and supported Google SMS I’d be completely sold. But there is one problem I’m having. About the only parameter you can configure on GVoice Dialer is the delay between when it initiates a call and when it begins dialing the string of numbers that tells Google that you want to dial a call. The help suggests that a delay of six to eight seconds is usually sufficient. But lately I’ve been having a terrible time getting the Google menu to recognize my calls and I’ve had to extend this delay to as long as ten seconds to make it work.

I believe that this is primarily related to T-Mobile and slow call connecting. But … I never had this problem when I was using the GV Dialer trial. If I listen when GVoice Dialer is trying to call, it sounds like it’s simply dialing all the numbers too fast, but additional delay seems to help. I just wish someone would make a decent Google Voice client for us smartphone users …

Another Windows Mobile Dialing Option for Google Voice

October 31st, 2009 No comments
This entry is part 6 of 10 in the series Google Voice

Credit CardsSince making calls via Google Voice requires nothing more than entering a series of digits on your dialpad, there is a whole class of programs available for Windows Mobile, which I skipped in my software review, but which can be adapted for this purpose. Calling Card or Credit Card dialers. Think about it – using a calling card requires essentially the same functions as using Google Voice: dial a phone number, enter a PIN or other ID number, navigate a menu, and finally, dial the number you want to call.

So, if none of the Google Voice software that I identified for Windows Mobile works for you, you can always try to adapt a calling card dialer like Sunnysoft Calling Card or another freeware program. I haven’t tried this yet since I’m still trying to work through the bugs in GVoice Dialer, but it might be worth a shot if Calling Card gives better integration with the built-in address book. There’s a good post from an early Google Voice (Grand Central) adopter at http://technologyinmind.com/?p=107 who uses the Calling Card strategy and likes it.

Replacing Mobile Phone Voicemail With Google Voice

October 28th, 2009 No comments
This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series Google Voice

voice_logoYesterday I wrote a quick post about how Google had figured out how to integrate Google Voice voicemail with an existing mobile phone number. I activated it last night – here’s the scoop.

As many people figured, what this does is set up forwarding of your phone to Google Voice. There’s there’s little real integration here. Google simply figured out the dialing strings you need to enter into various carrier’s systems to forward your cellphone to your Google Voice number. And they built a little wizard to guide you through the setup. That’s about it. The only integration seems to be that if the mobile phone forwards a call to Google Voice, and the Google Voice rules are set to ring the mobile phone when that caller calls, it ignores that rule and only forwards the call to other phones on the list.

This setup has pluses and minuses, depending on your carrier. The main drawback is that most carriers charge minutes for forwarded calls, with the exception of Sprint based on their recent announcement. And, your callers will have to endure a long ringing sequence, waiting for your cellphone to forward and then for Google Voice to pick up. But the upside is that you can get Google Voice functionality with people before they clue in and start calling your new number.

My advice is that you should keep a close eye on your minutes if you enable this and get a lot of calls to your cell. Because even if you have your Google Voice set to whatever your carrier calls free numbers you can dial (your Circle, your Faves, etc.) they might still charge minutes for calls forwarded to that number. But, since you can turn this feature off at a moment’s notice, you can just give it a try and see how it works for you.

Categories: Technology Tags: ,

Google Voice – Fixing the Multiple Voicemail Issue

October 27th, 2009 No comments
This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series Google Voice

The other day I wrote about an inconvenience with Google Voice – having Google Voice calls going to multiple voicemail systems. Well, apparently Google is coming through with a fix! This morning on Tech/MobileCrunch I read the announcement that Google had figured out a way to have Google Voice take control of your mobile phone voicemail.

And sure enough, on my own Google Voice screen, I saw this. Note the “Activate Google voicemail for this phone” link next to my mobile number:

Take Control of Mobile Voicemail

Take Control of Mobile Voicemail

This is an interesting development … because this really solves two problems. First, it prevents my mobile from picking up a Google Voice call and taking the message. Second, it also sends messages from people who call my cell number directly into the Google Voice voicemail system. So I get the benefits of transcription, and custom messages, and centralized voicemail management without changing my phone number.

I will take the plunge tonight after I get home from work and see if it works. But it sounds promising!

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Google Voice Clients for Windows Mobile

October 24th, 2009 No comments
This entry is part 3 of 10 in the series Google Voice

My Dash 3G is currently running Windows Mobile 6.5. The smartphone version — it’s not a touchscreen device. Since I’ve been using Google Voice I wanted a client or dialer on the phone that would seamlessly integrate with the phone’s normal calling function. I’ve tried several to this point and none is really satisfactory.

Making Google Voice Calls

There are really two ways to initiate a Google Voice call — via telephone or via the internet. In the phone-based method, you call your own Google Voice number and then enter your PIN and elect to make a call. You enter the number to dial and Google connects the call. In the internet version, you navigate to the Google Voice web page, log in, enter the number to dial and tell Google which of your phone numbers you wish to use for the call. Google completes the call and then rings your designated phone.

All of the Windows Mobile programs out there use one or a combination of these methods to make Google Voice calls.

GV Dialer

Confirmed 10/26/2009: the GV Dialer author has abandoned the project and left current users hanging out to dry. See this blog post and this screen:

F' You GV Dialer Users!

F' You GV Dialer Users!

It’s a shame too, because GV Dialer was probably the best Windows Mobile client out there.
Google doesn’t offer a dialing app for Windows Mobile yet so I was forced to look for 3rd party apps. The first that I found and tried was GV Dialer. And frankly I liked it. GV Dialer was simple: it inserted itself in the native Windows dialer so that whenever you initiated a phone call via any of the normal methods, you would be prompted whether you wanted to use your normal phone or Google Voice (it could also be set to always use one or the other). GV Dialer would then call your Google voice number and automatically enter the digits to work through the Google menu and initiate your call. It was very simple and it worked seamlessly. I liked it. The problem? It seems like the author stopped development abruptly before my trial expired and I can’t activate it to a full license. When you go to their website now, all you get is this:

No GV Dialer For You!!

No GV Dialer For You!!

Based on the blog on the site, I’ll bet that having the iPhone version pulled from the App Store killed any hope of actually making money so the author abandoned it. But it’s a pretty shitty thing to do to not even let people activate versions they already have. So I’m, stuck with a no longer functioning version of a program I liked and I had to start all over again.

iDialer

iDialer is a popular dialer replacement for Windows Mobile, originating (like so many things) on XDA-Developers, but now hosted on its own page. Upgraded or hacked dialers are popular with the touchscreen smartphone people (for reasons totally lost on me — I’ve never seen a single one that really offers much more than the standard dialer, with the exception of the Google Voice Support in iDialer) and iDialer is one of the more popular ones available. The new integrated Google Voice support is particularly cool. The problem of course is that the author wrote it for touchscreen devices only, so it works poorly at best on the Dash 3G. And, like most hacked dialers, it doesn’t replace the native dialer, so you have to start the dialer separately to use it which seems ridiculous to me. Nonetheless, a few users swear by it, even for non-touchscreen phones (see the second post of  this thread for example).

The main advantage of iDialer is that it can use both the dial-up and internet methods of initiating a Google Voice call. In some cases, the internet method is faster since there are fewer digits to input. But that isn’t nearly enough to overcome the limitations of trying to use this touchscreen app on my non-touchscreen device. So I gave up after only one day.

GVoice Dialer

That leaves GVoice Dialer as the client I am currently using. It works similarly to GV Dialer only not as seamlessly. For GVoice Dialer you need to initiate a call by starting the app first. Then you can select a number from your address book and initiate a Google Voice call. This is one extra step than GV Dialer required, but I guess it’s better than nothing. To speed up the process I assigned GVoice Dialer to a speed dial key on my phone so I can start the app quickly and then quickly jump to my address book.

The Ideal Program

What would be the ideal Google Voice client for me? First and foremost it would integrate with the native dialing functionality. That means absolutely no starting of any extra programs before initiating a call. One should be able to browse the native address book or type a number as normal and then be prompted whether to make a normal call of a Google Voice call. The program should also have a blacklist and whitelist, so you could designate numbers to always use Google Voice or never use Google Voice. If someone could do that I’d pay good money for it.

Life With Google Voice – The Multiple Voicemail Issue

October 10th, 2009 No comments
This entry is part 2 of 10 in the series Google Voice

I’ve been using Google Voice for a while now, and I’m happy with the service overall. However, there is one vexing issue … multiple voicemail systems.

The call routing features of Google Voice work well. For example, on weekdays I have calls routed to my work desk phone and my cell phone. And that works great. After 7 PM I add my home phone to the mix. The problem happens when I don’t answer any of the ringing phones. In an ideal scenario, Google Voice itself will pick up the call and I’ll get an e-mail with a rough transcription of the message. But — each of the ringing phones has its own voicemail system, and those systems often try to answer the call. In fact, my home phone really has two voicemail systems — the answering system built into the cordless phone base and my digital phone service voicemail. Each of these systems is set to pick up on a different ring. So one of two things happens — either one of the phones answers and the message is left there, or, even though one of the phones picks up, Google Voice takes the message and I’m left with blank voicemails on one or more phones.

Either way it’s a pain …

One solution might be to just turn off the voicemail functions on various phones, but that’s not possible in some cases (work for instance) and not practical in others (because my wife shares my home phone but not my Google Voice number for instance).

Hopefully there are some creative solutions for this problem.

Categories: Technology Tags:

Google Voice – Integrating it Into Daily Life

October 3rd, 2009 No comments
This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series Google Voice

voice_logoI finally broke down after waiting four weeks for my Google Voice invitation and bought one on EBay. So after salivating for a month with two separate e-mail addresses on the waiting list, I dropped a whopping $3.29 on a “buy it now” Google Voice invite from the seller with the highest feedback on the first page of listings. And I got my invite and had my account set up less than 20 minutes after hitting the pay button on Pay Pal. It was worth every penny – because I really hate to wait for things.

Now the question is, what the hell do I do with it?

My Phone Habits

The first thing I realized is that no one calls me — which is the result of a carefully crafted strategy of hiding from people for close to a decade. Seriously – T-Mobile must hate me because on any given monthly bill at least 90% of my cell minutes used are 3 of the 5 numbers in my My Faves plan. And two of those numbers are my wife! On average, looking at the last 6 months worth if bills, I made or received 4 non-Faves calls a month. And even then several were dentist and doctor appointment reminders.

As for my home phone — well, I’m rarely there and even when I am I don’t answer it for anyone except my wife and a select few friends. And they usually want to talk to my wife anyway.

So now what?

Google Voice promised to solve one of the problems I have: integrating my work life and personal life in the same equipment, for a low (read nearly free) cost. And if I actually needed my phone much for work, Google Voice should make this integration easy.

Work/Life Balance

I work for a rather progressive (at least in the IT sense) healthcare organization. And I also commute 1.5 hours each way to work, usually by train. My employer would be more than happy to provide me with a company laptop and cellphone or Blackberry or Smartphone (heck, even an iPhone), but I have chosen to use my own equipment instead. Why? (Most of my friends think I’m nuts BTW.) Because for at least 3 hours a day I don’t want to feel guilty when I do my own personal stuff using my laptop. And because, as progressive as they are, I can keep my own laptop on the cutting edge installing whatever productivity software I want. A company laptop would be open for me to install things, but they are still building them with Windows XP and Office 2003. Office 2003, 6 years after it was released! That’s just not acceptable for me. As for the cellphone, you can see by my Dash 3G posts I love to tinker with my own phones. And I don’t want to be the über-geek carrying two phones everywhere. So I decided to use my own Windows Mobile phone for corporate e-mail since linking through Outlook Web Access is so easy.

But how to deal with the cost of phone calls (in either minutes or dollars) when I’m away from the office? Like when I’m working from home since my job allows me great flexibility to do that when needed. I could just give people my home number since I have an unlimited digital phone plan through my cable provider — but who wants all kinds of people calling your home number.

Skype to the Rescue

So I turned to Skype. With a cheap (currently costing me ~ $4/month for a SkypeIn number) subscription and SkypeIn number, I have a real telephone number that isn’t my home number for people to use. To get clear calls in my home office, I bought a Belkin F1PP010EN-SK Desktop Internet Phone for Skype, and assigned its MAC address to the highest priority queue on my internet router. And no one has ever suspected it wasn’t a regular landline.

For my mobile phone, I can use the Skype client, at least when a Wi-Fi or 3G connection is good. But on a mobile, the call quality deteriorates very rapidly as the signal changes.

The Problems

Thus my problem. I needed a solution that would allow me to give a “mobile” number to work contacts which would ring my Skype line when I was home in my office or my cellphone (via a regular cell call) when I was out. It would also be nice if I could prioritize co-workers from other work calls. Google Voice seems to fit the bill nicely. It’s routing functions allow me to direct calls to different phones at different times, and I can set my Google Voice number as one of my Faves so the calls don’t take up minutes. Perfect! Now I can use my cell phone like a cell phone for work calls without eating up my personal minutes, and also direct those calls to my home Skype line when I’m working at home (because my cell phone signal inside my house is sketchy, that’s why — otherwise I wouldn’t need Skype at all).

And that’s the way it’s currently set. Now I just need to get my Google Voice number into circulation so I can see how it works.

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