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Posts from July 2009

Alec Saunders on The Google Voice and Apple Tussle

Alec has a perspective, and it's one that I share. I really don't think AT&T cares about GoogleVoice as it drives airtime any more than they care about Yahoo being on their handsets, and Yahoo having an IM identity core via Messenger that also works on their handsets. As a matter of fact, airtime consumption and driving minutes used on their network is how they make money so if GoogleVoice makes calling easier why would AT&T care.

Alec point about number portability and customer's leaving--BFD. People don't leave a carrier because of anything but three factors:

1) Coverage

2) Pricing

3) Customer Service experience

Features...for the most part people still use their mobile phone for three things:

1) Make calls

2) Receive calls

3) Receive voice mail

Oh, and outside North America add in Text/SMS for adults, while in the USA SMS has clout with kids and teens.

I still go by what I said a few days ago. This back alley scuffle is all about brinksmanship, something Om Malik and I are in alignment on (you can tell as he used a Poker hand photo and I called it "table stakes" in our respective posts.)

Checking Out 3Jam

GoMo News, Techcrunch drew my attention to 3Jam, a GoogleVoice like clone. So I took one for the team (my readers) and jumped in head first running it through it's paces.

Here are some fast observations:

Set up was fast, easy. A confirmation email and I was off and running.

To get a 3Jam number you have to pay as little as $4.99 per month. GoogleVoice is free.

Like GoogleVoice you have to buy outbound minutes. You also have to pay for SMS traffic, while at GoogleVoice SMS origination via the web interface is free.

Calls to Skype are permitted. Right now you can't directly call Skype with GoogleVoice unless you have a SkypeIn number or Gizmo5 that can point your calls to Skype for GoogleVoice customers due to the peering relationship between GV and Gizmo that I helped establish a few years ago, and ironically, 3Jam is using OpenSky to ring calls inbound to my Skype ID.

The voice on the answering engine is mechanical. It sounds like something out of StarWars. I'll eventually get around to changing it.

3Jam is not a new company, debuting at DEMO in 2006 and has spent time working with messaging applications, mostly built around SMS. One app they have made available is a Twitter app that is useful to those outside the USA who need to be twetted and to tweet. A Windows only desktop SMS app is in place already, as is a Blackberry Threaded SMS application.

My take-right now the 3Jam service looks to be really strong in the SMS space and has decided to leverage that and jump into the find me/follow me game, offer Local Number Portability and bundle in some other services, ala Google Voice.

Clearly right now they are falling into the "Me Too, Me Also" space and are looking to become a "Me Different" company in the unified space, just as they achieved in the SMS/Texting space with the group texting solution they delivered to socially networked carriers, but unfortunately without more to the new service, it hasn't gotten there, yet. Now if they blended the features of former client TalkPlus' capabilities to the service (Note I remain an option holder in TalkPlus for transparency purposes) they would be different, and would have something that could outflank GoogleVoice.

These folks aren't slouches. They have some serious money behind them in NEA and Norwest Venture Partners, have a nice customer list who they provide white label services using the 3jam platform to including Peek, Samsung, Motorola and Virgin Mobile USA (or until the Sprint merger closes and they learn what happens next.)

As an option to GoogleVoice, 3Jam is clearly getting it's groove on...time will tell just how well they play in a space which is only going to get more crowded as the mobile operators begin to offer more new features that previously required third parties to provide them.

Google Loses It's iPhone Voice

Yesterday the word came down that two of the third party developed iPhone apps that work with Google Voice had been removed by Apple according to TechCrunch.

Upon reflecting on the move one has to look more closely at the players involved and recognize that there is more here than simply the blocking of an app or two by Apple. On one hand this is all about Apple's radical integration and their agreements with the mobile operators. Until they expire Apple has some contractual clauses that have to be honored or face the risk of contractual breech. On the other hand, Apple isn't stupid and as we've already reported about the Comcast application as an inside ambush, I'll say that Apple's exclusion of both a Google Latitude application and now the GoogleVoice applications are more deeply motivated.

Until Google got into the handset business, Apple and Google were friends. The two shared a similar viewpoint. Google's Eric Schmidt sits on the Apple board of directors and both love the cloud. Now with Android Google competes with Apple for phones, and while not directly but through partners like HTC, Samsung and Motorola, Google has a head to head battle at retail for mobile device sales with the iPhone.

But that was not the big swipe at Apple, but instead was the announcement of a web/cloud oriented OS that Google is building based on Chrome which while many look at as a threat to Microsoft, is also something that Apple has to at least look at with some cautious eye.

This tete-a-tete is nothing more than corporate brinksmanship and has to be looked at that way.

My guess is some level of detente will come about, but not until all sides in the mix get beyond table stakes and start looking at how much open costs to really play the game. Currently playing in iTunes: End of the World by The Time Tunnel

Vonage To Have an iPhone App?

With all the hoopla around GoogleVoice not having an iPhone app, it's very rewarding to see that development by noted voice companies continues for smartphone platforms.

GigaOm is reporting that Vonage is likely releasing a smartphone app, and smart money says it will be for the iPhone. That will be very good news for Vonage customers who have an iPhone if true.

Is an Android app also in the works?

MiFi Comes To America

As a very happy owner of an unlocked Novatel Wireless MiFi, both CDMA and HSPA version, all I can say is the news of the GSM/HSPA version arriving in North America has to be viewed as great news. This is the most amazing device a road warrior can own.

I own the 2352 which features 900/1900/2100 MHz as I am in Europe so much, but the 2372 is optimized for the USA, likely meaning that it may work on T-Mobile 3G on 1700 Mhz, but no specs are out one the Novatel site to that confirm yet.

Given the lack of T-Mobile nationwide coverage and AT&T's sputtering network until the upgrades are finished, the CDMA versions from verizon and Sprint are likely more reliable for heavy users at present, but if HSPA/3G is what you need, then the 2372 HSPA version is still not a bad option.

I hope to test one when I'm back in the USA.

Gizmo5 is Giving Google It's True Voice-Beta Enables Making Free USA Calls From Apple iPhones, SIP Devices, Softphones

Yesterday I received an email from one of the wizards of Gizmo5 who works for my friend and neighbor Michael Robertson (he lives a few minutes down the beach) about something I felt blows through the "Speed To Cool" and gets to "WOW" almost immediately.

To make it simple, the email invited me to a beta that would let me (or any Gizmo5 user) make calls out using Google Voice from a SIP device.

The subject line simply read:

Free US calling on any SIP device using Google Voice

And the note went on to further get my interest and excitement with:

Gizmo5 is working on a mashup service with Gizmo5 and Google Voice called GizmoVoice and we'd like your help testing it. Gizmo Voice is designed to let users take full advantage of the messaging and calling services of Google Voice combined with Gizmo5's support for any SIP device. The goal is to have ANY SIP device (wifi phone, ATA, SIP client, PBX node, etc) to be able to make and receive US calls without a monthly or per minute fee.

Now, since calls to USA destinations are free via Google Voice, what Gizmo5 has done is now made really free calling both placing and receiving a total reality.

Here's why.

1. Already you can terminate your Google Voice number on a Gizmo5 account. That means all you need is a SIP endpoint like a softphone such as Eyebeam, Bria or X-lite from Counterpath or any softphone provider, or a SIP device. This is possible because one of the options for where to receive your Google Voice calls is your Gizmo number.

2. With the new BETA that Gizmo is in trials with that same SIP connection that sends calls to Gizmo5 now initiates calls and routes them out via Google Voice. Think Skype but without the need to pay for anything. Google Voice gives you a free number and Gizmo provides the front end to make a free call.

This will work, not only with any SIP device or softphone, but in my testing I have it also working with my Gizmo5 softphone client on the Mac, and I was able to prove it out a few times by calling my mobile phone directly and the words GrandCentral which is my entry in the address book for my Google Voice number appeared.

Next, I then tested on a SIP based DID I keep for testing purposes from CallCentric. I dialed that number using the Gizmo5 client and watched my caller ID appear as my GoogleVoice number. I then called the same number via Counterpath's Eyebeam and the same result occurred. The GoogleVoice caller ID was presented.

Now this is where it really gets interesting on two fronts.

The iPhone and Skype

I'll start with Skype.

Receiving Skype Calls

Currently with Gizmo5's OpenSky service (for $5.00 a quarter of the year) you can forward your Skype calls to your Gizmo5 account. That means you can be reached over your SIP based handsets by both regular callers who dial your PSTN number and your SKYPE ID. From what I can tell, theoretically you could have your calls all end up in one place as those Skype callers will end up hopping from Skype to Gizmo to GoogleVoice and should not end up in an endless looks as the wizards at GoogleVoice already have installed call loop detection in order to replace your mobile phone's voice mail which was enabled way back in 2007. That means in theory the same can be done with Gizmo5 routed calls into GoogleVoice when the call loops back your Google Voice number. That means you have free voice mail, and free voice mail to email and free translation.

Placing Calls To Skype Users

That's takes care of the receiving of calls from Skype. Now let's talk about placing calls to Skype users from your GoogleVoice+Gizmo5 service. That's simple too, as OpenSky already makes it possible for a Skype name to be called from any SIP device by dialing a number. To do that you create an alias. That's a bit of work, but I would bet that auto-alias creation can't be far off for Gizmo5's team (or for that matter by GoogleVoice's.)

Now saving the best for last.

The Apple iPhone or iPod Touch.

I found an app that used to be called SipPhone (ironically the company name of Gizmo5) that comes out of Asia from a company called VNETCorp. Recently they changed the name of their softphone client to iSIP, and its a very handy download for the Apple iPhone or iPod touch. Inside the settings are pre-configured that are so damn simple that anyone who can enter their username and password can start to use it, if they have service from one of the pre-configured carriers, one of which is Gizmo5.

So my last test was simply this. On my Apple iPhone I loaded in my Gizmo settings and made a SIP call to my CallCentric supplied DID that rings inside my Counterpath supplied X-Lite softclient from my iPhone over WiFi. A few seconds later, it rang, displaying my Google Voice Caller ID. When I returned the call via the iSIP, the call went back to the Caller's ID not to Google Voice, as the Caller ID was properly being passed. This means when I'm returning the call by dialing the number, the receiving party sees my Google Voice number, while I've seen their number coming in via Caller ID or heard their name via the Google Voice call screener.

Now you know why I said "WOW!"

To be transparent, back in 2007 I helped broker the relationship between GrandCentral and Gizmo. It was a simple SIP peering arrangement because all parties involved knew that standards based calling would be game changing. If receiving calls for free on Gizmo via GrandCentral was the first inning. Making calls for FREE via the combined efforts is the second inning. The iPhone app integration is the top of the third inning and what's next will be the bottom of the third. Oh, for what it's worth, the home field advantage remains up for grabs, but one things for sure, regardless of which side you're rooting for, this time, the fans will be winning.

New Mac Centric X-Lite Coming From Counterpath

According to my sources, and what I'm already using, a new beta version of X-Lite is coming for the Mac, more than likely by early next week.

Couterpath, which has seen some executive defections of late, with Jason Fischl moving on to Skype to run their developer programs, and others, has spent the better part of the year retooling their Macintosh software.

So far, from my testing of the new X-Lite, it's a better product than it was before. Watch for the Beta to appear here sometime soon.