Over the past few years we have seen the evolution of several conversation communities, some simply employing instant messaging; others employing both instant messaging and voice. Skype is the primary example with its support of IM, voice and video as well as auxiliary features such as file sharing (and, as announced tonight, basic screen sharing) but we are also seeing these services diffuse into Google, via GTalk’s voice and chat capability, MSN Live via Live Messenger, and, in spite of its trying to define who they are, Yahoo. Truphone is a mobile voice calling service that I have used for a couple of years from a Nokia N95-1; it became critical in a situation I encountered in Germany two years ago. I have liked both the quality of the voice calls as well as the user interface, especially its use of the device’s native address book for initiating a call. While they have had some hiccups with their recent product launches, Truphone has become the leader in providing low cost calling from the iPhone while breaking the carrier barrier via Apple’s App Store. I will soon be reporting on Truphone Anywhere for BlackBerry. Now, under recently appointed CEO Geraldine Wilson, Truphone is making a move to grow their user base rapidly by leveraging the user bases of other services.
This evening at the MacWorld Showstoppers event Truphone announced an enhanced Truphone for iPhone providing connectivity to these four conversation communities. Supporting both instant messaging and voice conversations, voice calls to, say, Skype contacts are free provided they go over a WiFi connection. Calls to these communities can also be made over a carrier’s 3G network, usually at the cost of a local call. In addition Truphone is providing access to Twitter as one additional messaging service accessible via Truphone’s iPhone application.
In my interview this evening with new Truphone CEO Geraldine Wilson, she pointed out:
- Using Skype as an example, Truphone’s enhancements set up an appropriate Skype client on a Truphone gateway and complete the call to the Skype contact, taking advantage of Skype’s peer-to-peer architecture such that there are no resulting termination charges.
- By introducing instant messaging, Truphone is recognizing the key role IM is taking on in IP-based conversations where a conversation may start over a chat session and migrate to a voice session if deemed appropriate.
- Truphone sees the introduction of these enhancements as a key to building the Truphone user community; Truphone generates revenue through offering low cost calling to/from the landline and mobile PSTN network.
- Truphone is looking at adding BlackBerry and Android to their supported platforms for this service over the next few months. Key here are devices that support an application store in order to make user access to these services simple and trivial.
- To avoid high roaming charges it is recommended that Truphone for iPhone be used either over a WiFi connection anywhere worldwide but only over a user’s home country 3G carrier.
- These new features go live on next Monday, January 12.
Some outstanding questions:
- Given that the Truphone application needs to be active for conversations, how will this work when other applications are open? Currently if I have Truphone as the open application on my iPhone, I can receive free Truphone calls and my presence will be indicated to other Truphone for iPhone users if I am in their “Favorites” tab. However, if I am in another iPhone application, I cannot receive “free” Truphone calls over WiFi; nor is my presence indicated to others. I look forward to seeing how the enhanced Truphone handles Instant Messaging when Truphone is not the “open” application on the iPhone. This is where BlackBerry’s full multi-tasking capability is a major advantage over the iPhone.
- Calling Skype contacts involves providing your SkypeID and password. What security is in place to maintain the confidentiality of this information. What other security aspects are compromised as a result of placing the calls via a connection to a gateway that supports the caller’s Skype client.
- What is Skype’s reaction to having Truphone siphon off what could otherwise potentially be SkypeOut revenues while leveraging the Skype user base and using the “free” aspect of Skype? We know Skype is working to launch mobile phone applications, probably this week at CES. With iSkoot and the Skypephone on 3′s networks, as we learned at last year’s eComm 2008 iSkoot presentation, a portion of carrier revenues are shared between Skype and iSkoot.
A major step forward in making low cost calls worldwide, Truphone’s moves once again emphasize that WiFi is becoming an ever growing alternative connection option to making wireless calls. At the same time it will be interesting to see how the business model plays out in a world where the cost of voice calling continues to move towards zero.
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