Mobile

Rounds brings together mobile video chat with shared web browsing

Rounds is adding yet another compelling spin to the mobile video-chat formula: Its latest app lets you browse the web with a friend while video chatting.

The company’s free Rounds Video Chat Hangout apps for the iPhone and Android already let you play games, share photos, and watch videos together with your friends, so it only seemed logical for it to tackle web browsing next. More than just video chatting, Rounds is aiming to replicate the experience of hanging out side by side with your friends.

“The best scenario is you hanging out with you friends at home — but when you can’t do that and you want to feel closer together, you use Rounds,” Natasha Shine-Zirkel, the company’s marketing head, told VentureBeat.

Founded in 2008, Rounds has been exploring the possibilities around video-chat activities far longer than Airtime, the much-hyped Sean Parker startup that launched last year (and has been curiously absent from the news lately). Rounds previously sported a feature that randomly matched you up with chat partners similarly to Airtime and Chatroulette, but the company ended up dumping it to focus on video chats with your friends.

The cobrowsing feature is powered by technology from Channel.me, and it allows both chat members to click links, enter URLs, and scroll the screen simultaneously. While you can try to visit any site with the feature, Rounds includes a helpful list of ones that it’s guaranteed to work with, including Reddit, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Overall, the cobrowsing feature looked smooth from what I saw in a demo although it’s limited somewhat by the iPhone’s smaller screen size compared to Android phones. (While cobrowsing, your video chat gets shifted into a small thumbnail, so you can still see your friends’ reactions.)

For now, Rounds’ mobile video chats only work with other mobile users, but the company is working on consolidating its desktop and mobile platforms, Shine-Zirkel tells me.

The Tel Aviv-based startup has raised more than $5.5 million from Verizon Ventures, Rhodium, Tim Draper, and others.

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