Now You Can Call People From Gmail, For Some Reason

Have you ever been staring at your junk clogged email inbox and thought, "I wish I could talk to all these people on the phone?" No? Well, then prepare to be baffled by yet another weird Google invention.

Google announced today that you can now make phone calls directly from Gmail by installing a web browser plugin — in case reaching for an actual telephone is too much trouble. In fairness, people with truly horrible wireless service, no landline and no existing Skype account might be interested. But on balance, Gmail calling seems like an oddball offering.

Now You Can Call People From Gmail, For Some Reason

In other words, it's hard to see why Gmail calling will fare any better than Google's recent high-profile duds, like Google Wave, a sort of live group collaboration system that was cancelled after three years of development and just 77 days after its release. Google's also still struggling to set the world on fire with Buzz, a Twitter-like system Google controversially tried to integrate with Gmail, like this new phone thing. Meanwhile the competition over at Apple remains laser focused on releasing a select few blockbuster products aimed at well defined user needs, and then marketing them very clearly and powerfully. It remains to be seen whether Apple's obsessively tidy and controlled approach is a superior bed for innovation than the messier (but still vastly profitable and interesting) Google approach. But it certainly induces less head scratching.