While Apple has made iMessage a staple of iOS communications, it's not behind this new development. Rather, it's Twilio, a San Francisco startup that has become a major player in the cloud communication space by giving everyone from small app developers to large corporations an inexpensive and efficient way to integrate voice communications.
Now, with the release of its software development kit today, Twilio is giving iOS app developers the same voice over IP (VoIP) tools. And while those making apps will likely manifest in-app voice communications in myriad ways with varying complexity, Twilio director of product management Thomas Schiavone says the basic set-up can take as little as 15 minutes.
Twilio has already made inroads into a wide variety of companies. In 2011, its user base blossomed, growing 400 percent, and there are more than 75,000 developers currently using its tools, including Hulu, Airbnb, eBay, Group, LinkedIn, Salesforce.com, and others.
The company's platform is designed to enable both VoIP to VoIP calls, and VoIP to traditional phones. It also allows conference and group calling. And by making it possible for iOS app developers to integrate the platform, it's likely that we'll soon see everyone from game designers to call centers to hotels and many other building Twilio's technology into their apps. With hundreds of thousands of iOS apps already available in Apple's App Store, and countless more coming, it's almost certain that Twilio's iOS tools will be quickly adopted by large numbers of developers.
One feature Twilio is touting that could aid quick growth is what it calls built-in "presence." According to Schiavone, that means that app users will be able to see when their friends come online and are available to talk. Asked about the privacy implications of such a feature, Schiavone pointed out that Twilio is the platform underpinning the apps' communications and that it would be up to developers to ensure that they are following Apple's guidelines as well as the law.
Schiavone said that Twilio is currently in beta on an Android SDK, and that it will be publicly released before year's-end.
Twilio, which recently closed a $17 million C round of funding, makes its money by powering communications between users. It charges a quarter-cent per minute on both sides of a VoIP-to-VoIP call, and 2 cents a minute to connect to standard phones.