I am a late comer to the iPhone party, which is unusual for me because I have been a Mac user since 1984 and I am well known for having a penchant for new technology and shiny gadgets. I am no stranger to iOS devices, having an iPad and a couple of iPod Touchs, but I had hung onto my “feature phone” and resisted the urge to shift to an iPhone. I had been an early smartphone user with several Kyocera Palm OS phones and several HTC Windows Mobile phones.
That changed this summer as I needed to test a project, and I got my hands on a shiny new iPhone. At first it seemed like a smarter version of my iPods and I was pleased to see all my apps sync across to it. My project required testing its camera and GPS capabilities and the geek in me was happy to see that the phone really did live up to its billing as an awesome hand-held computer with an OK phone attached.
I had a couple of major insights, the first was that I was now part of the techno elite. Clients and colleagues would now take a couple of minutes to confess their iPhone addiction to me and share tips on their favourite apps.
Over the years I have become a major fan of wi-fi as a technology and I had run a few apps on my iPod’s (and iPad) to turn them into pretty good cordless phones, and in the case of the iPad an ok speaker phone. So, I decided to see how the iPhone performed in this regard.
I already had several apps I knew well (Fring, Bria and Skype) that worked well previously and I already had several VoIP accounts that I could configure for iPhone duty. VoIP really changes your concept of what telephony is by doing a bit of personal structural separation between your hardware (handsets and switches) and your services. (I love getting voicemail as email). I used this to operate my businesses on 04 (Wellington) numbers from Marlborough (deep 03 territory), but I had never had this capability on the move without setting up awkward and expensive redirects.
I love mobiles and have been involved in marketing mobile technology since the early ‘90s when I helped launched an early mobile office (a laptop, analog cellphone, cellular modem and unified power supply in a steel reinforced briefcase), and while cellular data has fallen in price it is still the most expensive way to connect and I always seek out wi-fi when it is available.
For me this means my own wi-fi at home, in places like airport lounges and I am a keen user of CityLink’s CafeNET all over Wellington and then office-based wi-fi. I soon had Bria working on the iPhone and I paid to upgrade to the premium codec that improves performance on 3G and slower wi-fi networks, and was rewarded with a completely acceptable VoIP performance. However, the app journey was only beginning.
I tried Fring that has been rewritten in a social media-aware manner to feed Twitter, Facebook, IM’s and Skype into the app which was very cool — but let down by decidedly average call quality. Next up was Skype, an old favourite and one that has got the call quality right along with a video calling capability to match Apples own ‘Facetime’. This is more useful to me because I know more people with Skype.
This lead me into new territory, the iPhone to iPhone apps I am not quite sure how they work (MAC addressing I think), but two have come up. Viber, which lets you make calls to any other Viber-equipped iPhone, and Whatsapp, which does the same with texts.
So if you have an iPhone you can use if for so much more than just mobile calling, a SIP client like Bria makes it the ultimate cordless phone. However, you are still paying your VoIP provider.
For the total tightwad, with a lot of connected iPhone toting friends, the newer apps like Viber offer ‘free’ calling, but it is appointment calling as you both need to be online or have a pre-arranged schedule. As well, it is hard to go past Skype, which is already doing good service in many businesses.
The iPhone (and Androids) can certainly extend your communications footprint and stretch your budget further. It is easy to imagine a SIP phone in the office and wi-fi clouds (and on 3G), and a cellphone for the gaps.
And, for their next trick, these phones look set to cut up the plastic in your wallet.
O'Connell is strategic director of Radar Guidance and a former Chair of TUANZ