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.
-up with security”>
Microsoft, on the other hand, was the first to make security core to its IM offering.
ICQ is playing catch-up with security, Enderle said, by offering better spim (spam over instant messaging) control, which allows users to receive “accept/cancel” options for inbound messages from unknown ICQ users directly within their active message windows.
Addressing security issues is particularly important for ICQ, which was one of the first IM services to endure a major security breach in 2001, when hundreds of pages of ICQ instant messaging logs from the CEO of an Internet company were posted on the Internet.
ICQ 5 offers other new features as well, including new designs to personalize the ICP Contact List; the ability to access standard or premium ICQ e-mail accounts with one click to the ICQ Xtrax panel; a status manager to create personal online status messages; full screen game support; and dual screen support.
Next up for the IM industry, Enderle said, should be a way to tie all IM services together, much the way e-mail is tied together today.
“Unlike e-mail, where it doesnt matter which e-mail client you have, you have to pretty much be on the IM product the other person is using, particularly if you want to use advanced features,” he said.
“The killer feature would be a product that works universally or works well enough that it becomes the de facto standard.”