There’s a quiet revolution underway as the old 4 kHz narrowband phone system is being disrupted by a combination of cell phones and Internet phones with advanced features and HD Voice. Market research from 2010 suggests that approximately one third of installed phone lines in the United States were using VoIP while two thirds still used the legacy PSTN. These numbers are expected to flip over the next 5 years so that by 2015 approximately two thirds of all installed phone lines in the US will be VoIP.
With hundreds of proprietary digital phones and PBX systems, Windows TAPI (Telephone Application Programming Interface) has traditionally dominated CTI by providing a common API that phone and PBX vendors could write to. In response, European standards organizations developed CSTA (Computer-Supported Telecommunications Applications) as a model for standardizing the computer interface to PBX systems. CSTA has also been extended to SIP phones in the form of uaCSTA (User Agent CSTA), but US adoption has been slow. Another response to the complexity of proprietary phone systems is the emergence of Asterisk, a powerful, free, open source PBX that works with phones from several major manufacturers. No other PBX works with as wide a selection of phones, and this has driven the adoption of SIP based VoIP as the industry standard.
By the 1990s, the PC was king. More software leading to ever more investment made it very difficult for any platform that wasn’t a PC to compete on features and price. As the global Internet emerged, there was leverage in making the phone just another application that ran on the PC. Multiple soft-phones and audio/video communication platforms were born by solving the problem of streaming high quality audio/video across the Internet to PCs (like Skype, iChat AV, and Magic Jack). Telepresence was marketed as a way to reduce the cost of business travel. Some 10 years later, Apple transformed the cell phone industry by making the phone just another app that ran on a powerful mobile computer with a breakthrough user interface.
The Internet with its open standards and vastly superior content has loosened the grip of the PC. One effect has been the shift toward cloud computing. Telephone answering machines and PBX have become applications that run on the server. It is no longer necessary for small business owners to deal with the complexity and expense of managing their own phone system. Companies like Phone.com and OnSip.com have emerged to provide business PBX phone service via the Internet for a low monthly fee.
While the iPhone is setting the standard for mobile, there’s still a need for simple, reliable, and cost effective home and office phones. Standard SIP based VoIP phones have emerged to fill this need. While soft-phones are popular for some applications (especially mobile), PCs are bulky, power hungry, and more complex to manage compared to dedicated (modular) phones.
Phone Amego is positioned to serve this market as follows:
1. Despite all the changes in telephone technology, people still need to make and receive phone calls while juggling information from multiple sources.
2. Many people will use more than one kind of phone during an extended transition period (i.e. cell phone, SIP phone, Skype, landline, etc). Modular (RJ-11) telephone jacks are being replaced by SIP and HTTP over Ethernet. Standard Definition narrowband voice is going the way of dial-up networking.
3. Phone Amego allows you to leverage the power of CTI with the simplicity of modular phones (including cell phones and soft-phones). Ironically, many soft-phones are weak at supporting CTI under the assumption that CTI is the job of the call manager or PBX, but the trend is going the other way. Many small businesses no longer need or want their own PBX, but they still want CTI.
Phone Amego’s integration with web based services, SIP phones, soft-phones, iPhone, iOS, landlines, and support for native CRM offers ground breaking integration that wasn’t possible only a few years ago. As more businesses adopt iOS and consider using Macs, Phone Amego is positioned to become popular with SOHO users. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to wider adoption is breaking through the noise of competing alternatives so that small office users can identify compelling solutions. See
Q: What about CTI in the cloud?
A: The same factors that are pushing PBX service to the cloud have inspired some companies to offer CTI in the cloud. Invox.com for example offers PBX+ which includes CTI features. As the developer of Phone Amego, I was intrigued to see the “Call Widget” which allows you to see who’s calling, transfer calls between employees, leave notes for calls, and integrate with web based CRM systems like SalesForce starts at $99 per month (bundled with 3000 minutes or higher).
Phone Amego combined with Phone.com offers similar capability but with two key advantages:
(1) Consumer friendly pricing. Phone Amego is $30/seat (one time) or $60 for up to 5 users within a single family household. Phone.com is competitive with Vonage.
(2) Phone Amego works with native applications Mac users are already familiar with including Apple’s Address Book, iCal, and Mail (which integrate easily with iPhone and iPad). The biggest cost of moving to a CRM is time spent learning a new system and entering your data. Native apps lower the barrier to entry.
The market is still deciding where software-as-a-service makes the most sense. Google is pushing an Apps in the cloud model (Google Apps), whereas Apple is pushing a native Apps with data in the cloud model (iCloud).
I can’t claim there’s one right answer for everyone, but I’m partial to the native Apps approach. Native apps offer a richer experience and deeper integration as illustrated by the examples below:
(1) Phone Amego’s click-to-dial feature isn’t limited to your on-line address book. You can click-to-dial almost any number that appears on your screen and can also send touch-tones to access other services.
(2) Outgoing call setup is faster because you can dial directly from your phone instead of ringing your phone first, and then ringing the remote party.
(3) Phone Amego’s caller ID isn’t limited to reverse lookup or opening a CRM page. It integrates with native apps including iCal and Daylite. Other options include speak caller ID, growl notification, multi-line Caller ID, and native scripting.
When the iPhone first appeared, Apple proposed Web Apps as the API for 3rd party developers because the native SDK wasn’t ready. Developers recognized immediately this would relegate them to second class status and complained loudly they wanted a native SDK. I would argue the CTI user experience is intimate enough to give native apps an advantage.
In contrast, the PBX user experience has always been distributed between the users phone and PBX equipment in a wiring closet. Moving the PBX equipment out of the closet and into the cloud offers greater flexibility to enhance the user experience.