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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Truphone on iPod Touch.... cool, but...

Truphone has announced that it's now supporting the iPod Touch as a platform for its VoIP client. Andy Abramson's got an analysis of his view of the impact here.

It seems cool (although Fring has also been on the platform for a while), but I'm wondering who it's aimed at. The pitch seems to be around kids & college students. But most of them don't actually use voice these days - just SMS. A few use mobile IM, but that's definitely a minority sport in comparison, and likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

I'm not sure how many Touch's have shipped so far - I certainly don't see that many around in London on the Tube, but I guess it may have had more traction in the US. And I'm curious about user experience - what happens when you get an inbound call: is there a loud ringtone or vibrate? What about if you're listening to music at the time? (Can the Touch handle multi-tasking of the music player & background apps?)

So, I'm a bit skeptical about all this, as my 2005 predictions of WiFi-only VoIP devices have turned out to be over-optimistic. I was expecting to see lots of single-mode VoWLAN devices start to replace DECT and other cordless phones. But even with the advent of Skype-integrated WiFi handsets, there's been little traction, despite some decent brands like Netgear getting involved. Various DECT phones can now hook into Skype or SIP VoIP services via terminal adapters, but that's not exactly set the world on fire either.

Having VoIP as a secondary application on an iPod or a personal media player or a handheld navigation device is all very well, but I'm just not convinced that many people will want to use it, when they've got a mobile phone in their other pocket, with their main address book & SMS. As Andy points out, various VoIP applications have been usable on Nokia tablets, Sony PSP and other devices for some time. They don't appear to have made a huge impact, though.

Yes, the VoIP/iPod combination is probably quite convenient for people wanting to make international or long-distance VoIP calls away from their PC, if they haven't got an unlocked dual-mode smartphone.

Also, it's possible that in the US there are still kids & students who actually speak to each other on the phone rather than text, so maybe I'm looking at this through Euro-centric eyes.

Actually, I still think the most important non-handset platform for 'mobile' VoIP is the laptop - I often see people in airports or hotel lobbies with headset attached to their PC, and it's certainly my own main use case for VoWLAN. I often do conference calls using Skype-over-WiFi from my notebook, as it means I can take notes into a Word document and look at a website or slide deck simultaneously.

So, where's the Truphone client for Windows?


Anonymous said...

Hi Dean,

We see lots of comments about Truphone in your blog and others. It is true that they are aggressively innovative and love to take on the mobile operators. However, the question for me is will they ever make money on a scale to justify their running and r&d costs. Lets face it they generate a lot of hype but I suspect very few minutes of usage! Skype seems to have stagnated and Truphone are a million miles behind Skype or even Jajah for that matter. IMHO selling cheap minutes is no longer enough as we see in the UK the price of mobile minutes and bundles are tumbling

Dean Bubley said...

Good question.

You're probably right that R&D-intense approaches to cheaper minutes is a difficult one.

My view (from as far back as 2004) has been that the main impact of VoWLAN would be to act as a pricing lever on normal cellular tariffs. And while levers are necessary & useful, there's not a lot of profit in being a lever manufacturer.

On the other hand, if you can go beyond commodity minutes, that's a different story. Skype does, and so do a lot of the unified comms guys in the enterprise space.

Truphone have a new CEO, who I met recently. I suspect her appointment presage a shift in strategy.

I should probably follow Jajah a bit more closely as I know they've gone beyond call-through into other tech-heavier implementations of VoIP


max said...


You are right, the ixxx devices don't muliti task so you can't receive a cal/instant messagel unless you have the app open (please someone correct me if I am wrong but I have used both Fring and Truphone and not figured it out).

That ultimately makes these apps part-time (if I happen to
be in a paid for wifi area) or in case of emergency. This is not going to make either company rich anytime soon as the novelty soon wears off.

The shame is that the original Fring app on an unlocked iPhone with software version 1.x did run well in the background but that all disappeared with the introduction of the 3G iPhone and software v2.x.

Did the host networks have something to do with this so wonder.

max said...

subnote: please excuse my awful typing previously - I am using an iPhone to type (but I still love it).

Anonymous said...

I do a little bit of international travel and love TruPhone on my iPhone. It is really a lot more cost effective than AT&T's international plan. Only thing I wish they had was SMS. But, for that I just use the AIM app while overseas. I have also jailbroken my phone so I can run TruPhone in the Background as well as fool the iPhone to think it is on Wifi while on 3G. I am really not the norm when it comes to use, but I still can't wait to see were TruPhone goes in the future.