I’ve just been playing with a beta version of PhoneGnome that’s now integrated with iotum, and I have to say this is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in the telecom world since we’ve started the ETel site. They plan to announce the new service officially on Monday, which will be the first actual commercial release of iotum, and I think this could be one of the best combinations since chocolate and peanut butter.
Speaking with the founders of PhoneGnome and iotum today it was clear that they were both truly excited about the partnership, and it’s easy to see why. This deal makes sense on so many levels. Both services are really easy to set up and use and complement each other nicely. Like many others, when I’d seen iotum demo’d my first reaction was “how can I get my hands on this and start using it now?”, and this deal now makes that a reality. One of the philosophies behind TelEvolution’s PhoneGnome has always been to create a platform that is as seamless and easy as possible for application developers to plug their stuff into, and this will be a great proof-of-concept of that ideal.
For those unfamiliar with either of these products, here’s a quick run down.
PhoneGnome is a drop-dead simple, plug-n-play device that allows Internet phone calling in conjunction with an existing landline service. You buy the PhoneGnome box and plug in a standard phone, a connection to your existing phone service, and a connection to your high-speed Internet, and then sit back and watch a few lights blink and it’s up and running and will route any calls that it can over VoIP and all others through your traditional phone service. It truly couldn’t be any easier to set up. TelEvolution founder and CEO David Beckemeyer was also one of the founders of Earthlink, and I suspect he learned well there the value of making things as easy as possible for users.
PhoneGnome comes with a free basic voice mail service and has no monthly charges associated with it unless you add some of the premium services, like a more advanced voice mail system that offers customized greetings and a web interface or the newly integrated iotum enhanced call screening service.
iotum has been one of the darlings of the new breed of Voice 2.0 apps that are emerging, wowing people wherever it’s demonstrated (it even won a DEMOgod award at the recent DEMO show). iotum uses intelligent filtering techniques which know about your Outlook calendar, contacts, and Messenger IM status to make decisions about how to route incoming calls. Also very simple to set up, it is a large step forward in improving the way busy people can handle their communications needs by getting the calls they want, where they want them, and pushing the unwanted calls to voice mail or other destinations. It can do things like route your calls directly to voice mail when your IM status is busy or your Outlook calendar shows you in a meeting, but then automatically make an exception to that rule for someone calling you that you have a scheduled meeting with later in the day. (Although today iotum is dependent on Windows apps, a Mac version is in the works and other platforms will soon be able to take advantage of its relevance engine technology).
Alec Saunders has been on the road showing off iotum for awhile now, and I could tell he was really excited to have a version coming to market. I know many in the VoIP industry are eager to give it a spin too, and expect this announcement will be met with much excitement. When I spoke to Alec earlier this year at the ETel conference I was kind of bummed to get the sense that they were mainly targeting enterprises and service providers, who would in turn provide or sell iotum’s services to their end-users, as it didn’t sound like it would filter down to independent road-warriors like myself anytime soon. But this new development changes all that, and starting Monday anyone can use iotum by simply getting a PhoneGnome box and subscibing to the service. When I asked Alec about this change in strategy, he mentioned that “continental drift happens faster than getting service providers to move on implementing new features” and they were getting impatient about getting iotum out into the market and didn’t want to have to rely on a carrier. This was a perfect fit with TelEvolution, who also understands the problems with the carrier-dependent telecom economy and are striving to show that these kind of apps can be hosted by companies other than the encumbent carriers and are working hard to remove the friction from deploying these kind of apps. According to David, iotum was “right up the alley of the kind of partners we’re looking for.”
As I was playing with iotum and PhoneGnome today I started getting very excited about what feels like the beginning of a new era in voice communications. PhoneGnome does a great job of hiding and handling complex outgoing call routing decisions and iotum adds a level of intelligent filtering to incoming calls that has previoulsy been only fantasized about. Even though it’s still in beta, everything seemed to work flawlessly and exactly as you’d want it to. iotum nicely handled calls based on my settings and all of the configuration options were clear and simple.
I have to believe this is a big win for both companies (I’m trying really hard to avoid the “win-win” phrase). iotum will add value and make one of the first real Voice 2.0 apps available to PhoneGnome users, and PhoneGnome integration will make iotum finally available to practically anyone who wants to use it. Heck, I’m so interested in using the iotum features that I may even switch back to Windows as my main computing platform! OK, probably not, but please do hurry up with that Mac version…