Calling all developers: Twilio unveils Skype-like in-app voice calling

Twilio mic

Twilio, which provides software to connect phone calls to web-based applications, announced today it is releasing a software development kit (SDK) that integrates the company’s two-way audio service into web applications with a few lines of Javascript.

Like Skype, the Twilio client allows voice communications to occur over a number of different channels including through phones, tablets, websites, within web and mobile applications and more. Developers can use the client to solve a number of different enterprise headaches like creating call centers, telephone conferences, eCommerce contact pages, help desks and more, Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson told VentureBeat.

“The existing telephony network is a big dumb audiopipe,” he said.

Though transmitting voice over the Internet (VoIP) is not new, the SDK makes the capability widely available for app developers. Lawson said his team decided developers needed to bypass carriers in the same way Skype does. Skype-like capabilities are in demand for programmers, but the company recently acquired by Microsoft has not been very friendly to independent developers, he said.

“Skype is obviously amazing and transformed the way people interact, but Skype is only one client,” Lawson said. “We want to make that available for millions of developers.”

While at the Twilio offices in downtown San Francisco, which screams start-up with Twilio tee shirts lining the walls, Lawson showed me a call center in action. The developer, who is a Twilio employee, created an application that lets people make and receive voice calls using Twilio’s back-end functions. The application includes note-taking and contact-editing capabilities.

The web-based call center app was able to pull names, photos, locations, etc. from other data sources on the Internet. Lawson was able to edit the information and save any information gleaned from the call. The data immediately repopulated when he called the contact again.

For example, say you are on online retailer Amazon’s website. The company can quickly pull data like what product you are browsing to identify your needs. But developers still have to write scrapers, which crawl the internet for information and import it into their programs. Twilio does not provide the data.

“Imagine Amazon had a talk-to-us-now button and Amazon picks up to say, ‘Hi, how can I help you today?’” he said.

Twilio Client

On the business side, companies could see a major price reduction. Traditionally outbound calls cost two cents per minute, and inbound calls cost one cent, using existing services. With Twilio, calls cost a quarter of a penny per minute.

Twilio has been developing the client, which is available on all major web browsers, for about nine months. It tested the client in various environments using a number of different devices to guarantee lower latency and high audio quality. The client hasn’t been the only project for Twilio, which recently announced short-code offerings at VentureBeat’s MobileBeat conference in San Francisco, Calif., this year.

Around 40,000 developers use Twilio. The San Francisco, Calif.-based company has 60 employees. Twilio has raised $16 million in funding to date from the Founders Fund, Union Square Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners.


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