Photo: Matt Rosoff
San Francisco startup Twilio just unveiled a service for developers to build point-to-point voice chat into any Web, iOS, or Android application.It’s like every developer in the world now has access to the voice chat functions of Skype or Google Talk.
For the last couple years, Twilio has provided simple tools for developers to add voice calling and SMS to their applications, and charged them a simple and transparent fee for each use.
So far, though, all of those communications have traveled through the regular phone network.
As Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson puts it, Twilio was simply helping developers wire up the phone system in new interesting ways, using it “as a big dumb audio pipe.”
The new technology is called Twilio Client, and it enables voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls from within any Web page, iOS app, or Android app.
Calls travel over the Internet, so no connection to the phone system is required, although the apps can still connect to regular phone numbers using Twilio’s other services.
Because Twilio doesn’t have to interface with the phone system, the service costs developers only 1/4 of a penny per user per minute — a fraction of the price of Twilio’s other services.
Some possible uses:
- An online retailer could set up a “push to talk to customer service” button on its Web site.
- Mobile and Web games could let gamers trash talk while playing — just like they’ve been able to do on consoles like the Xbox for years.
- Business apps could layer voice on top of existing features — for instance, a CRM app could let company reps take calls from customers. All data from incoming calls could be integrated into the CRM system, so reps would know who’s calling, the last time they called, and any outstanding issues they might be having.
- Companies could set up internal intercom or conferencing systems — at a fraction of the cost of a product like Microsoft’s Lync.
Twilio uses Amazon Web Services for data storage and compute power — CEO Lawson used to be a product manager for AWS — which allows it to scale to massive volumes quickly while charging developers only for the exact capacity that their apps uses. Lawson says they’ve tested Twilio Client for “billions” of endpoints.
The service sounded clear in a test at Twilio’s office, and worked equally well between two Macs as it did between a Mac and iPhone.