Matt Thommes

My personal web log about technology, music, software, life, and more. Written since 2002/03.

Send and receive SMS through email with Google Voice

Among the many great calling features of Google Voice is continually-improving SMS features. You can opt to receive SMS solely on the web, thereby reducing your need for an SMS plan with your cell phone network provider. But, until recently, it’s been somewhat redundant to have to leave open your Google Voice inbox alongside your email inbox, in the browser. If you’re like me, you consider SMS and email to be one in the same - sure, email is capable of much more, but in the end it’s just a “text” message being sent to you. Now you can send and receive SMS solely through your email inbox, and thereby also eliminating the need for ever loading the site, unless you wanted to look through voice and SMS archives, or change your settings. Screenshot of a Gmail message Each of your Google Voice contacts now has a unique SMS email address, although it seems the only way to figure out what it is for each contact, you have to have your SMS forwarded to email: Screenshot of Google Voice settings When you receive an SMS via email, look at the From address. It should look something like this: In the example above, your own Google Voice phone number is at the beginning, and the sender’s phone number would be in place of the string of hash marks (#). You can save this unique email address to that contact’s profile in your email program: Screenshot of Gmail Contacts Then, when you want to send this person an SMS, just start a new email and type their name like you would for any other email (example below shown in Gmail): Screenshot of Gmail message You can fully interact with an SMS conversation solely via email!

Sending SMS with an HTML email

For sure, some may wonder what happens to all the extra formatting (or signature) if you choose to send someone an SMS using an HTML email. I’ve tried it a couple times, and it appears the formatting is removed, and only the first 160 characters are used. So your signature, or any trailing text after the message, will just be ignored. This behavior is exactly what I’d expect. Here is an example SMS sent as email, in HTML format, with a signature and other trailing text: Screenshot of Gmail HTML message And here is how it eventually appears in Google Voice: Screenshot of Google Voice Even more impressive - if your SMS-via-email message is too short, it still somehow does not include the signature, or trailing text: Screenshot of iPhone Mail clientScreenshot of Google Voice What!? Where is the signature? Nice work! This is completely unobtrusive - your SMS partner will never know you are using email to send and receive.

Using your mobile mail client to receive SMS with alerts

The best advantage to all this, I think, is for users who have turned off SMS notifications on their mobile phones (to save on SMS charges). Until now, you had to manually check the site in your mobile browser for new SMS. It’s not a major inconvenience, but it’s still a few extra steps. Now you can use your mobile phone’s email client to receive SMS, which should have an alert feature, like the SMS app does, which emulates the experience of receiving an SMS without the charge. What Google has done here is very useful, and all at no extra cost.
  • 4 December 2009