By Jacqueline Emigh | Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 6:00 am
Today is the official launch date for a pair of mobile software applications from Phone.com aimed at giving users of Android handsets, iPhones and other smartphones sophisticated telephone and VOiP calling features that might otherwise coat a boatload of money.
Already downloadable from Google’s Android Market, the new Phone.com Mobile Office provides users of cellular voice networks with features such as free (or relatively cheap) international calling, call histories, the ability to block calls from both unwanted and unidentified numbers, multiple call routing options, “professional” voices for messages, background music during hold times, and integration of voice calls with faxes and SMS text messages in a single mailbox.
Here’s a video from Phone.com on Mobile Office:
Phone.com plans to roll out the Mobile Office service to iPhones this summer, RIM BlackBerries in the fall, and possibly other phone platforms after that, said Phone.com CEO Ari Rabban, in an interview with Technologizer.
Phone.com Mobile VoIP, on the other hand, will be offered for iPhones first, with Android phones to follow and possibly BlackBerries some time later. Access can be made through a either a Wi-Fi or 3G data connection. VoiP can bypass the need to use up voice minutes on cellular calling plans (although 3G users will need to pay heed to whatever usage caps might be associated with their data plans).
Phone.com has previously supplied both regular telephone and VoIP Web-based calling services, but services haven’t been tailored to wireless nets until now. Regardless of what kind of device or network you use for accessing the Web-based phone services, one of the biggest benefits is seemingly the ability to make your business look big and very well polished, an advantage that some users are greeting with great enthusiasm.
“Phone.com is a breath of fresh air. They’ve been doing a very good job for me and my business,” said Erwin Kreiner, who heads up New Jersey-based Aladdin Video Services.
In an e-mail to Technologizer, Kreiner explained that he switched to Phone.com about a year-and-a-half ago, after becoming somewhat disenchanted with both the services and billing practices of Vonage. He’s since started testing the Phone.com Mobile VoiP Service on his iPhone.
“I like Phone.com a lot. It gives me many more options for voice and text messaging as a small business than I could otherwise affordably get,” concurred Jeb Brilliant of Long Beach, California. In an interview, Brilliant said he first started looking into SMB phone services earlier this year on behalf of a friend of his. Brilliant’s friend ultimately decided to spend about $14,000 on an office phone system. “But I thought this was ridiculous, because Phone.com is much less expensive,” he observed.
Brilliant then turned into an early user of Mobile Phone Office himself a couple of weeks ago, after downloading the Android client to his Nexus One smartphone. Brilliant wears multiple business hats, involving both independent blogging and managing his own event planning business.
Essentially, Phone.com’s VoiP and regular voice services each let you use a single phone number from Phone.com with multiple phones. With the addition of the new mobile services, those phones might include an office phone, your home phone, and smartphones that you (and/or your employees) are using just about anywhere.
“The ability to use my cell phone – and have it appear to the person I’m calling that I’m in my studio–is a great feature,” said AVS’s Kreiner “If I am out of the studio, I can still receive all of my calls and faxes.”
Phone.com also supports the ability to look like a bigger business than you are with a wide bunch of other niceties, such as multiple greetings with various “professional” voices, for instance. “I can set up many different greetings [with] different messages to work at different times of the day/week,” said Kreiner.
While inbound callers hears music playing in the background, calls can be routed sequentially to various phones until someone at the company picks up, much as a costly PBX might route calls to various office extensions, Rabban said.
“Callers can be told that they’re the first person in line, or the third or the fourth,” he elaborated.
Rabban acknowledged that a number of other calling apps are already available for smartphone environments such as Android and iPhone. Yet he touted the tie-in to Phone.com’s many advanced calling services, along with the quality of its 24/7 customer services offering, as key differentiators.
Although downloads of the smartphone client software are free, users need to pay for Phone.com services. However, subscriptions start at only $4.88 for Mobile Office and $9.88 for Mobile VoIP, without all of the myriad additional possible bells and whistles.
Unlike Google Voice, for example, the Phone.com apps offer international phone calls to certain European countries–such as the UK, France, and Italy–free of charge to all users, Rabban said. Phone.com provides reduced calling rates to all other countries. “Plus, you don’t need to dial country codes,” he said.
Kreiner admitted to calling Phone.com’s customer service department twice over the past year-and-a-half about use of the VOIP service. “But both times I’d made incorrect entries to my ‘settings’ set-up. Once I explained the errors I was getting they knew immediately what was wrong and walked me through the settings and had me make the changes. They were friendly and helpful,” Kreiner maintained.
In contrast, Brillant said found the set-up for the Mobile Office service to be self-explanatory. Yet while Brilliant is generally very happy with the service, he wouldn’t mind seeing “some “tiny tweaks to the user interface” going forward.
“Maybe you should be going directly into the dialer, instead of into the menu page first. Instead of asking you what you want to do next, maybe the system should just assume that if you’re calling from a smartphone, you want to make a phone call,” the user explained.
While I appreciate Brilliant’s suggestion for the UI tweak, I’m not so sure that everyone would want to start dialing out immediately every time around. Personally, maybe I’d want to check my messages first, or change my call routing scenario, for instance. How about you?