Ribbit Mobile Launches to Challenge Google Voice, VoxOx

Ribbit brought its cloud computing phone application to the mobile device sector Nov. 3 in the form of Ribbit Mobile, which lets users manage calls and messages to mobile phones from their computers. Ribbit Mobile aims to challenge existing Web services such as Google Voice and VoxOx, and offers many of the same services as those products. However, Ribbit features a third-party developer platform to enable programmers to build applications that extend the Ribbit Mobile platform.

British Telecom's Ribbit cloud computing division brought its Web phone application to the mobile device market Nov. 3 in the form of Ribbit Mobile, which lets users manage calls and messages to mobile phones from their computers.

If that thrust sounds like services such as Google Voice and VoxOx, that's because it is similar. Ribbit Mobile rings mobile phones from computers, routes mobile calls to other phones and lets users answer their mobile calls on the Internet, all with a few mouse clicks from Ribbit's phonelike touch-button interface on the desktop.

Like Google Voice, Ribbit Mobile transcribes voicemail to text and sends it to users via SMS and e-mail, so that users don't have to tap into voicemail to listen to messages. The application also includes an online message inbox.

However, unlike VoxOx and Google Voice, which until last week required users to have a special Google phone number, Ribbit Mobile doesn't require a new phone number.

Users link their mobile devices to Ribbit and record a new voicemail greeting. When calls come in to the mobile phone, users can answer it or ignore the call. If they choose not to take the call from their mobile phone, the call will be redirected to the Ribbit platform, Crick Waters, executive vice president of strategy and business development at Ribbit, told eWEEK.

This is where things get interesting. Ribbit Mobile shuttles the call to a home or office landline, a VOIP phone, a computer, a widget embedded on a Website, Skype, MSN or Google Talk, depending on where the user has specified the Ribbit platform to route calls.

If the user doesn't answer the call, the call goes to the Ribbit messaging platform, where any message a caller leaves is converted into text and delivered via an audio file and a text message to SMS, e-mail or any other screen. Users can append notes to annotate the voicemail transcriptions they receive.

Ribbit Mobile also includes a backup phone online, so that when a user's device is lost, stolen or mobile service is unavailable, users can still access their calls as long as they have a computing device with Web connection. Ribbit Mobile also connects to Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, surfacing profile information from callers who are members of those social networks.

Google Voice might be free and VoxOx might provide a bit more functionality, but Ribbit Mobile has something those services lack-the benefit of a developer platform that lets developers outside Ribbit write applications to extend the cloud-based calling experience.

For example, third-party programmers created a Ribbit iGoogle gadget to let users manage their calls from their iGoogle Web page. Others created an Adobe Air application that lets users play back their Ribbit messages.

Ribbit Mobile is currently free as a "professional edition" for users to download. This includes unlimited calls and automated voicemail transcriptions. Ribbit will charge $30 per user per month for the professional edition when it launches the service from beta in 60 to 90 days. The company will also offer a free Basic edition and a Plus edition for $10 per user per month. In addition, Ribbit plans to launch apps for the iPhone and BlackBerry platforms.

To entice more developers to extend the platform, Ribbit also unveiled a Developer Rewards program to compensate developers based on how much their applications are used. This usage-based revenue share model is a twist on the classic revenue share model for developers of mobile app platforms such as the iPhone, Waters said.

Those interested in using Ribbit Mobile can sign up here to get an invite, a move that mirrors the gradual rollout method for Google Voice.