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Gmail call feature a ringing success, a million times over

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(Read caption) Gmail calling has attracted an awful lot of interest, Google announced yesterday.

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Call it Google Voice, Google phone, Gmail calling – or even "that Google Internet phone thingie." Whatever it is, it sure is popular. According to Google, a million users tried out its new Gmail call functionality within the first 24 hours the service was available – a ringing success for the California-based search giant, no matter which way you slice it.

Not clued in on the feature? Here's the gist: Gmail users can now download a kind of add-on to the Gmail interface. When the add-on is installed, a "call phone" icon will pop on the left rail of your interface, right above your contacts list. Click that button, and Google will connect your call – it's as simple as that. Gmail calling had been rolled out to everyone in the US by yesterday afternoon, Google said.

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At least for now, Gmail calls to the US and Canada remain free, although Google has hinted that it could levy some sort of fee in the near future. Calls to other countries will cost you – it will set you back, for instance, 27 cents a minute to call Afghanistan, and 14 cents a minute to call Guatemala. Other countries – including the U.K., France, and Germany – start at 2 cents a minute.

As Horizons blogger Chris Gaylord pointed out yesterday, the Gmail call feature probably isn't designed to unseat carriers such as Verizon, whose users will always want the convenience of a regular old cell phone. Instead, Google is likely trying to drive up the time the average Gmail user spends on the platform, the better to compete with Facebook and other social networks.

And judging by the intense volume on Gmail voice chat yesterday, Google sure is doing something right.