Apple Answers Google, Opens 3G VoIP API
Apple's release of the new iPhone SDK came with a little surprise, namely an open VoIP API that will enable applications like Skype to operate over 3G. AT&T announced that it would allow VoIP over 3G back in October of last year, but Apple hadn't made any moves to open its API to developers.
Apple also announced today that iCall will be the first and only VoIP application that functions on the iPhone and iPod Touch over cellular 3G networks. In a statement, Apple said: “We revised our Program License Agreement in conjunction with our updated Software Development Kit for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad Apps. Included in this update is the ability for developers to create VoIP apps that utilize cellular networks.”
While a press release states that "iCall for the iPhone and iPod Touch now enable[s] unrestricted free local and long distance calling over 3G data networks," that doesn't appear to be entirely the case.
The app itself is free and immediately available in the app store and offers a free three-day trial, which then converts to an automatically billed $9.95 per month version. iCall is also available in free ad-supported and pay-per-call versions, but those renderings don't support inbound calls.
"I applaud Apple's decision to allow iCall to extend its functionality beyond Wi-Fi and onto the 3G networks. This heralds a new era for VoIP applications on mobile platforms, especially for iCall and our free calling model. I hope that now more developers will begin using our VoIP as a platform to integrate VoIP into their applications," said iCall CEO Arlo Gilbert, in a press release.
iCall couldn't be reached for comment before press time. According to the iCall Web site, iCall for the iPhone product development began in May 2008 and it was beta tested by more than 200 users.
A spokesman for Skype said there's still a lot of vague language in Apple's terms of service. He said that Skype is still trying to figure out whether Apple will allow all third-party VoIP services to use the API, noting that Skype has a 3G version of its app and will submit it to the App Store at the appropriate time.
The move comes just days after Google rolled out an HTML5 version of Google Voice, which seemed to prove it could circumvent the gatekeepers over at the App Store. Apple provoked an inquiry by the FCC for its blocking of the Google Voice app from the App Store.
The move runs parallel with the carriers' recent war to find the bottom line on voice pricing as data becomes key to operator revenue going forward. Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless last week rolled out new unlimited voice plans.