Facebook recently made headlines with its approach to unifying messaging-e-mail, chat and texting-and making it possible to respond to any of those types of messages through its new Messages service with any device the user wants. It remains to be seen if that’s going to turn into a profit center for the world’s largest social networking service.
In the meantime, 5-year-old cloud service provider TelCentris has gone Facebook a few steps better with the latest version (still in beta, but not for long) of its VoxOx application, which made its debut at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Jan. 6-9.
The freely available consumer service unifies all key communication channels-voice, text, chat, video, social media, e-mail, fax and content sharing-and brings them into a single user interface that can be accessed by virtually any type of connected device. All the necessary data storage is handled in the San Diego-based company’s own cloud servers.
Sound too good to be true? A service that takes all those different types of messages and funnels them to you to accept with whatever device you happen to have with you? Worry not; VoxOx is for real.
(A caveat: Versions for iPhones, iPads and Android phones aren’t yet available but are in the works.)
The irony is that with people in the world now more connected than any time in history, their individual conversations often do not intersect because they are all created in differing networks and stored on different servers or devices.
“There’s real information overload right now, as we all know,” TelCentris spokesperson Natasha Grach told eWEEK. “Multiple e-mail addresses, multiple instant messaging services, multiple social networks-even multiple phone numbers for people. Even fax numbers-some people still have those. VoxOx is the only service right now that unifies all the key communication channels-conversations and contacts-into one.”
TelCentris is a registered telecom provider. Thus, with VoxOx, you get a free phone/fax number, which also is SMS-enabled, Grach said. Within the application interface (which is downloaded onto your laptop or mobile device) is a chat window, which also can be used to send text or e-mail messages.
An added bonus is that messages also can be translated to dozens of other languages within that window. Just click on which language you want to use for the message, and off it goes. Yes, Chinese and Japanese are on the list.
Connects with Facebook, Twitter, et al
VoxOx connects with chat and instant messengers Facebook, Twitter, AIM, Google Talk, Skype, Windows Live, Yahoo Messenger and several others.
VoxOx even has a service that allows users to send large data files up to 100MB to be stored in its cloud, so that recipients can go up and download them when the time is right. Again, all of these features are free of charge.
This central communications management enables users to manage all of their connections and contacts from one control window while at the same time providing a global phone service for free or at low-cost options. The international phone service is another story altogether; it is possible to make international calls for a few cents per minute, as opposed to dollars-per-minute on other service providers. Details on that are available from VoxOx.
One-Stop Communications Shop
VoxOx competes with companies such as Trillian (messaging), Skype (video), GoogleVoice/Gmail, eFax and YouSendIt (file transfer and storage). All of them at once, that is.
“There’s all these companies out there that do little pieces of all this, but we’ve combined them all into one place. We’re like a one-stop shop,” CTO and co-founder Kevin Hertz told eWEEK.
In its previous version, VoxOx was designed to present a rich feature set, but it apparently didn’t sit that well with early testers. Focus groups told the company that some features were hard to find and use and the experience wasn’t as intuitive as they would have liked.
“So we completely redeveloped the entire experience of the product,” Hertz said. “What we’ve come out with is a version that is simpler to use and much more intuitive.” This is the version the company debuted last week at CES.
The new VoxOx has a fully redesigned UI, a sleeker look and feel, and a reorganization of existing functions. Some features have also moved from within the desktop software to a newly expanded online user portal and Web store.
Contacts are the key
VoxOx is organized by contacts (all a person’s networks are merged into one contact, so as to avoid multiple instances). Its presence-enabled buddy list has a photo, a list of channels that can be used to contact the person, and a status notification to let the user know if he or she is available. (See screen shot included in this article.) It also has a smart button on the side that remembers the best way to contact a particular person.
And it has a search function, so that a user can just type in a name or a phone number to have the contact pop up in the window.
After locating the person to contact, it’s simply a matter of the user choosing which channel to use, and then creating and sending the message.
“Presence is a big thing now, with all of these networks that people are members of,” Hertz said. “Who wants to go to AOL and say, ‘I’m available,’ then to Facebook and say, ‘I’m away’? We give you our universal control panel, where you can set yourself to ‘away,’ and you will just be ‘away’ on all networks at the same time.”
You can also set your presence individually on various networks, if you want to do it that way, Hertz said. “You get complete control over how people contact you,” he said.
Hertz said TelCentris has completed its iPhone and iPad versions and is currently going through the process of getting them into the Apple store. “We’re also working on Android, too,” Hertz said.
OK, how does VoxOx make a profit?
So how does the company make money? You can’t give everything away.
“We charge, as a phone company does, for outgoing calls, faxes and text messages, at reasonable rates,” Hertz said. “We also have a good revenue stream from services that we provide to other telephone companies, VOIP, Web services and so on. So it’s a good business.”
TelCentris has built its own cloud platform not only to power VoxOx but several other business services, such as hosted PBX for small businesses, VOIP and other hosted services for service providers.
“Today we actually power about a dozen phone companies around the world,” Hertz told eWEEK.
Hertz said that the VoxOx beta program “will continue for a short while” before the product goes into general availability, which will likely be in several weeks.