The shape of the post-phone era is getting a bit clearer today, with the release of textPlus‘ next generation app.
The new product, called Nextplus, is more than just a messaging app for Wi-Fi or cellular data, according to two of the company’s co-founders, CEO Scott Lahman and Chief Creative Officer Zachary Norman. Before launching the Marina del Rey, Calif.-based textPlus (formerly Gogii), the pair were cofounders of the mobile game company Jamdat Mobile, which was sold to Electronic Arts in 2006 for $680 million.
Nextplus is a “telecommunications stack” that is becoming a “cloud phone,” Lahman and Norman told VentureBeat.
Nextplus is intended to become the next communications app choice for the 70 million-plus current users of textPlus, which launched in 2009. The company said the two apps will coexist for the indefinite future.
As with the textPlus app, every Nextplus user receives a virtual 10-digit mobile phone number provided by one of the company’s three telecommunication partners — Three Wholesale in the U.K., Level 3 in the U.S., and Iristel in Canada. (The partnership with Three Wholesale is also being announced today, and the company said two other partnerships will be announced soon.) All devices associated with a number receive texts at the same time, and no SIM card is required.
With that phone number, the app user can call any phone number in the world. (Nextplus’ voice service is scheduled to be added to its messaging service in a couple of weeks.) Similarly, text messages can be sent to others who do not have Nextplus.
Calls to other Nextplus users are free, while calls to landlines run two cents per minute to such countries as the U.K., Australia, or China. A user buys credits through Apple’s and Android’s app stores. Another near-term revenue source is advertising.
Nextplus works on iPhones and Android phones. It turns iOS, Android, and Amazon Fire tablets into phones as well.
All of that is similar to the previous textPlus, but the company said the new app was built from the ground up, so it can scale to hundreds of millions of users. And that’s where the biggest difference between the two apps comes in: Nextplus is a much more ambitious play, intended to become the linchpin of a major new telecommunications service.
First, there’s an emphasis on “media-rich” features, such as the option to display animated GIFs on the screen showing favorites, a tab that didn’t exist in the previous textPlus. There are also stickers and Emojis, plus a voice mail service is in the works.
And then there are textPlus’ intentions, built around Nextplus. We will “start selling data over the next year, [so] we’ll be your primary provider,” Lahman told us.
Why would mobile phone carriers want to partner with an app company that is quite clear about undercutting their messaging, their voice services, and will soon be selling data?
“We provide them with the future they’re looking for,” Norman told us, by expanding the customer base to users who, for instance, are very cost conscious.
The phone’s future is here, and these mobile carriers want to adapt to it. Lahman told us that many of them see their own futures are primarily revolving around the sale of data — wholesale to mobile virtual network operators like textPlus or retail to customers.
This future, of course, is visible to others as well. Some observers expect Facebook to build WhatsApp into a pseudo-telco, and services like Viber or Skype clearly have similar ambitions. How does textPlus differ?
“We believe in phone numbers,” Lahman told us, which — along with gateways from the carrier partners — allow the app to connect to the traditional phone network.
“It remains to be seen if WhatsApp want to connect” in that way, he said. As for Skype, he “tipped his hat” at the pioneering communications app, but added that his company is “mobile first.”
But not just a mobile company.
“Think of us as a cloud service,” he said, “where your number is in the cloud.”