I have been trying to find the proverbially perfect “single phone number” service to use for my business. Google Voice has come close, and while it’s not perfect, it recently got a step closer (and we’ll just ignore the craptastic no-app on the iPhone problem). Sadly AT&T service leaves something to be desired at my home, so I broke down and got a landline for the first time in five years. No one has the home phone number, but I set the Google Voice number to ring both iPhone and home phone, and started gingerly giving out my new GV number.

Recently something weird started happening… I was getting calls on my home phone that shouldn’t have been there. People who didn’t have my GV number were getting through on my landline. And today I realized that if I rejected a call on my iPhone, my home phone started ringing. It’s the googlepocalypse! So somehow (and really, HOW is this even possible), Google is intercepting calls to my iPhone and redirecting them to my home phone. Without the GV number ever being involved. Crazy weird.

Then a little digging turned up an advanced feature in GV settings where before going to voicemail, your calls can be forwarded to your other numbers… even if the call is to your mobile phone directly. I repeat, crazy weird. But the problem here was that I don’t have voicemail on my home phone, so any calls coming to my iPhone that didn’t ring there (‘cause I’m out of range, i.e. most places at home, or out of range anywhere else in the world), were potentially never known about. They weren’t showing up as missed calls on the iPhone (never rang there), weren’t showing up as missed calls in Google Voice (that number wasn’t dialed), and there was no voicemail (no vm on my home phone)—so no record of the call. Yeah, that’s great for business. 

Today I finally figured out the RIGHT way to set this up. You have to let Google’s voicemail be your one and only voicemail. Which I’m OK with. Sure it means I don’t get visual voicemail on the iPhone anymore, but I do get transcripts (well… close to it) as both an email and a text on my iPhone, and just one tap on the email lets me listen to the original message.

Here’s how it works, then how to set it up. 

  1. Anyone can call my iPhone (the same number I’ve had for most of this decade)
  2. If the phone is off or out of range, it rolls over to my home phone. BONUS—if I’m at home and I don’t want to answer my iPhone because I know it’ll drop the call, I can reject the call (double-tap on the lock button), and it will immediately start ringing my home phone!
  3. And if I don’t answer either phone, it goes to voicemail—to Google Voicemail. And I then get a vm notification and transcript (transcrapt?) by email and SMS.

And here’s how to set it up. 

  1. Go to google.com/voice and click Settings
  2. From the Phones tab, click the Edit button under your cell phone
  3. At the bottom, click Show advanced settings
  4. At the very bottom again, it has Forwarding Options. On mine (by default?) it was set to Ring my other phones before going to voicemail. That’s what you want.
  5. Now here’s the kicker… you have to click Activate (there’s no visual indication if it’s currently activated or deactivated)
  6. This will walk you through the steps to enable Google Voicemail for your cell phone. It includes punching in a number string on your iPhone to forward missed calls to Google.

Here’s the page you’re looking for, with the relevant bits highlighted.

So will I change my number on my business card to my Google Voice number? Probably… the service is getting better and better. I like the idea of the advanced call controls, but they still aren’t quite there yet. Like I want to set it so my family can reach me 24/7 but no other calls come in during the night, and I want it to intelligently update the time zone based on where I am. Not like the iPhone doesn’t know exactly where it is at any given time. Obviously I want to make outgoing calls from my iPhone without having to go through a stupid web interface and have the system call me back when I’m making an outgoing call. But it’s getting there. At least I hope it is.