America Online has introduced a new version of its ICQ instant messaging service that adds a host of new capabilities, including an industry-leading voice chat service.
ICQ 5, released Monday, provides many features customers have been asking for, including more customization, upgraded security and a simpler interface.
The service also provides users with several new features, including a new global walkie-talkie feature, the ability to chat with others without taking turns, and better video instant messaging that lets users adjust size and save snapshots from their video IM sessions.
The new walkie-talkie-style voice service, accessible on the ICQ Contact List using push-to-talk technology, allows users to chat instantly with other ICQ users at any time.
With this feature, users can opt to maintain an open connection so they can converse back and forth freely, said Orey Gilliam, general manager of ICQ for America Online Inc., based in Dulles, Va.
Users also can launch video instant messaging sessions directly from the ICQ message window or the ICQ Contact List by clicking on the Web cam icon.
Users can capture snapshots during a video IM session and save those images to the desktop, and adjust the video image size to three different dimensions during the live video instant messaging sessions.
But its the third major feature—ICQ Voice Chat—that some believe is truly unique.
ICQ Voice Chat, which provides PC-to-PC voice service based on VOIP (voice over IP) technology, allows for longer chats and doesnt require participants to take turns.
"They got ahead of the curve a little on the voice stuff," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group of San Jose, Calif. "Basically, they have integrated a voice over the Internet feature, which is something the others will have shortly, but dont yet."
Of ICQs major competitors, Yahoo has been the most aggressive in adding new features, Enderle said, and has had many of the features ICQ is currently rolling out for as long as two years, except for Voice Chat.