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Mobile in-boxes: Will Google devour them all?

Skydeck, YouMail, and RocketVox are all variations on the centralized mobile in-box theme, and all are endangered by Google's emerging Voice.

The universal mobile communications in-box is emerging as a trend at CTIA 2009 in Las Vegas. Variations on the theme combine visual voicemail, text messages, e-mail, calling, and call forwarding in one online deck that's as easy to manage as your e-mail in-box.

RocketVox is a slick, powerful freemium in-box that's a long shot against Google Voice. RocketVox

Skydeck (Skydeck review) has a traditional e-mail layout that does calls, voicemail, text, visual voicemail, and call control for a fee. RocketVox is a great-looking private beta that manages e-mail from multiple accounts (including Gmail), IM, SMS, voice-to-text, VoIP calling, visual voicemail, faxing, conference calls, calendars, and screen sharing with a vague social networking angle. RocketVox is currently an AIR application that will graduate to a Web service later down the road, and will also take on a freemium model ranging from $10 a month to $25 for professionals.

The much lighter YouMail does a visual voicemail Web service and mobile management app, also with the in-box metaphor, but emphasizes social interaction and customization, like personalized greetings in addition to technical offerings like voice-to-text transcriptions. At CTIA, YouMail announced an upcoming iPhone app that has been submitted to the App Store.

Even Microsoft has been touting its online mobile backup and sync service, MyPhone. MyPhone is in very early beta stages and can't do too much at the moment beyond syncing photos and text messages in a searchable in-box, but it will become more capable as Microsoft nears its Windows Mobile 6.5 release, in which MyPhone will play a larger role. Look for contacts, calendars, tasks, multimedia content, and documents as the service matures.

Google Voice inbox
A glimpse of the Google Voice in-box Google

Despite the diversity, the forthcoming Google Voice--with its universal number, visual voicemail, and advanced calling features--could mow them all under when it enters public beta. Google has been effective at dominating much more established software providers with its technology, its brand clout, and its ability to integrate with other successful Google services.

Since Google Voice will be free, Skydeck, RocketVox, and YouMail are in big trouble on the voice transcription front. YouMail has a niche that Google could well blow open with its own customization features and on-phone management app. RocketVox is the most compelling solution of the bunch at this year's show, but it's going to have to really work some magic to counter Google Voice's advance. Ironically, Microsoft's less feature-rich MyPhone backup and sync service stands the best chance of gaining its own identity, if only because it will come preloaded onto Windows Mobile 6.5 phones and will provide a seamless, out-of-the-box solution for those phone owners. This is definitely a space we'll be keeping a sharp eye on in the coming months.