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Posts from October 2010

UPDATE: Apple's FaceTime for Mac - and shutting the video off


Silly me... I had forgotten Apple's über-minimalist design philosophy. Moments after hitting "Publish" on my hands-on review of FaceTime for the Mac, my friend Stuart Henshall pointed out that the "problem" I listed of not being able to shut off the video was NOT a problem. The answer is simple:


But, said I... how do I receive calls if the app isn't open?

Well, as Stuart pointed out to me, followed by multiple comments to the blog, in the background Apple is using their Push Notification framework to listen for incoming calls. And sure enough... after quitting the application I still was able to receive calls fine. When a call comes in the FaceTime application opens up and asks you if you want to accept the call. Simple. Easy.

And yes, "apsd-ft" is sitting there running as a background process: apsd-ft.jpg

In fact it seems that the only way to truly sign out of FaceTime is to go into the Preferences of the FaceTime app.

Leave it to Apple to change the way we are used to working (with other video apps) and go for what is a simpler method. Open FaceTime when you want to make a call. Close it when you are done. If a call comes in, it will "just work" and open up the app.

Flickr photo courtesy of striatic.

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Checked out the redesigned lately? (Voice, SMS, IM, Twitter apps...)

Have you visited lately?  Have you used it to create any apps for voice, text messaging (SMS), IM or Twitter?   The Voxeo Labs team just gave the Tropo site a major overhaul ... added a new video intro... added more sample applications in JavaScript, PHP, python, ruby and Groovy... added more documentation... and just generally gave the site a new fresh look. If you haven't stopped by lately, do come by and check it out.

If you are looking for a cloud communications platform to build new voice, SMS, IM or Twitter apps on, sign up for a free Tropo account and get started today! Redesign

P.S. You can also follow Tropo on Twitter or Facebook - and yes, if you haven't figured it out, Tropo is a service of my employer, Voxeo. But even if I didn't work for Voxeo, I still would find Tropo very cool!

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Use "Facebook Telephone" to call FB friends - or anyone else!

fbtelephone.jpgWith Voxeo Labs' launch of the Phono software toolkit last weekend that lets you turn any browser into a phone or IM client, one of the more interesting sample applications released along with it was "Facebook Telephone", a Facebook application that lets you make phone calls from directly inside of Facebook.

In a post on the Phono blog, Chris Matthieu goes into detail about the application, how you can use it to call your friends... to call regular (PSTN) phone numbers... and also to call SIP addresses.

In using the app, I've found a couple of things rather cool:

  • The "phone-in-the-browser" has been seamless for me in the sense that after I approved the initial Flash security warning (and told it to remember my setting), it "just worked" and I was able to start speaking to people without any problems.

  • I like that you can call a friend on Facebook and if they don't have Facebook Telephone running in a browser it will automatically connect through to their mobile device.

  • It's cool that it works over WiFi... I'm looking forward to trying it out in various different locations. (like the next plane I'm on with WiFi ;-)

On the point about calling your friends, if you click the "Friends with Telephone" button you see a list of all your friends who have installed the application. If you click on their image you will call them right then from within your browser. As noted above, if they don't have the Facebook Telephone app running right then, it will ring through to the phone number they have set up in the application: fbtelephonefriends.jpg

One interesting point is that they never see my phone number - nor do I know theirs. Facebook Telephone combines the Phono client with the Tropo cloud communications service and creates an abstraction layer between you and the person you are calling.

You don't need to know the recipient's phone number... as the app just takes care of that routing for you. They see an incoming phone call from a number up on Tropo... preserving a level of anonymity between callers. Essentially, your Facebook friends list is already a master directory for messaging... now it is also that for telephone calls.

All this isn't to say the app is perfect... there can be some echo sometimes (a fact acknowledged by the Voxeo Labs team with this first release). And the current reliance on Flash means I can't use it on my iPad or iPhone.

Still, I think it's a cool use of Phono and I know Chris and the team have some even greater plans for the app.

If you'd like to try it out yourself, simply go to (great URL, eh?) and step through the process of approving the app to connect to your FB account.

If you'd like to play with the technology behind the app, you can go to and learn how to use the jQuery plugin ... and can go to and sign up for a free account to build multi-channel (voice, SMS, IM, Twitter) communications apps using web programming languages like ruby, PHP, python, JavaScript and Groovy.

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Using Apple FaceTime to connect from a Mac to a... TRAIN?

Received a FaceTime call on my Mac from a +44 number (U.K.) and the first time it didn't connect... but a little bit later the call came through... and it turned out to be James Body on a train somewhere in the UK!


Apparently James had a 3G MIFI near the window and had his iPhone connected to that via WiFi. James' audio came across quite well and the video was clear... if choppy from time to time. James said he was experiencing latency around 5 seconds or so.

Still, it was rather cool that it worked as well as it did!

Fun times...

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Hands-On with Apple's new FaceTime for Mac (Screenshots)

At Apple's "big event" today, one of the announcements I found most interesting was that Apple's proprietary FaceTime video protocol would now be available for Mac computers.  To date it has only been available for the iPhone 4 and iPod Touch. Naturally, I had to give it a try! ;-) I'll show the usage here and then mention some problems I found with this "beta".


Installing FaceTime for Mac was a straightforward download, doubleclick and go through the installer. Once you launch the app, you have to verify the email address you want to use to receive calls. After that, your screen loads to show your video and the contacts in your Mac OS X Address book:


Jim Courtney and I usually try out new toystools like this and sure, enough, he was online and called me.facetimemactoiphone.jpg The first time, though, he used an email address that I did not have associated with my Mac. It nicely automagically called me on my mobile (which was also in Jim's Address Book record for me) and we had a MacBook-to-iPhone call.

It worked fine and we had a great call. It was actually quite handy in that I could position the iPhone wherever I wanted it to give a decent view.

Next up I gave Jim a call from my iMac using his email address. The call went through to Jim and we were soon talking Mac-to-Mac. Audio and video quality were both quite excellent.

Given Apple's intense focus on design, it was no surprise that with FaceTime for the Mac after you accepted the call and stopped moving the mouse, the call controls just slid out of sight leaving the focus on the communication you had with the other party. Two views:


Naturally if you move your mouse back over the video window the controls come back in view. One of the controls let you go full-screen, which was quite the experience on a 27-inch iMac :-) You also have a control on your window that lets you rotate the view from portrait to landscape. The result looked like this:


And no, Jim's video was not as crisp when blown up to the full-screen size on my iMac. It was fine for viewing and for our call, though.

After we hung up, I played a bit more with the app and found that in the preferences you can associate multiple email addresses with your Apple account:


The preferences are, as you can see, rather limited.


Overall, FaceTime for the Mac seemed to work rather well. I did though, note these issues:

  1. HOW DO YOU SHUT THE VIDEO OFF? - You read that right... there doesn't seem to be any way to shut the video OFF. When you launch FaceTime, it takes over your camera and then continues to show you video of yourself in the FaceTime window. There are two issues here:

    • Using the camera does impact CPU performance. Not a huge deal on my iMac where I don't run a huge number of apps, but a MAJOR issue on my already way-over-taxed MacBook Pro that I use for everything.

    • I can't use the camera for anything else. I use Skype all the time for video. I record screencasts and video using the camera. It seems like I have to shut FaceTime off in order to use the camera in another app... but then of course that means that people can't call me using FaceTime.

    Particularly for the second issue, this seems like a major FAIL to me. I asked about this on Twitter and loved this response from David Bryan:

  2. WHAT ABOUT WINDOWS? - Immediately after the announcement I had Windows-only friends asking "hey, what about us?" Yes, what about them? It's the same kind of fractured platform strategy like Skype has had. Unlike Skype, Apple is one of the providers of an operating system, so they obviously want to provide as many incentives for people to come over into the Mac world. Still, it would be nice to have Windows interoperability.

  3. STANDARDS? - Which leads naturally to the last point... where is the open FaceTime specification? We know FaceTime is built on a number of open standards... but where is the specification that would allow other video endpoints to support FaceTime calls? Is it Apple's goal to lock us in entirely to their products? C'mon Apple, lets get the spec out there so that other companies can support FaceTime and we can grow the video ecosystem!

Problems aside, it's great to see FaceTime connections being possible to Macs. So far it's worked quite well (outside of that turning off the video issue :-) )

What do you think? Have you tried out FaceTime for the Mac yet?

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The New Breed of Tablets from Cisco, Avaya and RIM - will they matter?

avayaflare.jpgCisco, Avaya and RIM are all rushing out "tablet" devices now for the enterprise market - but will they actually matter?  Will enterprises really want to use these high-end and high-priced tablets versus all the new consumer tablets like the iPad and all the various Android and Windows tables in the queue?

Don't get me wrong ... it think it is awesome that Cisco, Avaya and RIM are all coming out with new tablets. Ever since getting an iPad back in early May it has become a constant companion on my travels around and I use it for so many different purposes.

The touch interface is also so incredibly "natural"... I watch my daughters using the iPad and just have to think: "Why shouldn't computers just work this way?"

Any user interface improvements that improve the communications user experience are very definitely a GOOD thing!

So I commend Cisco, Avaya and RIM for coming out with tablets.

I just still find myself wondering why I might want to pay to buy one of these tablets. I had this exchange yesterday with analyst Brian Riggs on Twitter: briggstablets.jpg

As I said, I already have a SIP client on my iPad (and there are several options, in fact). I already have Skype. I already have WebEx and GoToMeeting for collaboration (and many other apps). Sure, I don't have video on the iPad - yet - but there are a range of Android consumer tablets coming out that do, and I wouldn't be surprised if Apple announces an iPad with a video camera sometime soon. Apple loves FaceTime right now... I wouldn't be surprised to see the iPad join the game.

I think Brian's point is the key:

avaya, cisco are betting they can do comms on tablets better than apple, etc.

And to a point, they are probably right. Real-time communications IS different than traditional web communications. This is very true.

There is, though, this one wee minor detail:

Apple has an entire ecosystem of developers building apps!

If Apple can deliver a hardware platform that provides the necessary devices (like an embedded camera for video), I would see the developer community rushing to use it. (And the Android community already has multiple devices coming out.)

On a more personal level, I've found my iPad to be much more like my mobile phone... it's a device I take with me to both personal and business functions/meetings/events. It's a "converged" device in that it reflects the blurring of the lines between my personal and business lives. I don't know that I'd want yet-another-device to carry around.

There is certainly the case that in large enterprises where you go to work on a "campus", the ability to have a work-specific device like this that you carry around could be valuable. But even there I'm not sure that I wouldn't also want my personal information, etc. with me. And isn't part of the value of a tablet that you could bring it home with you or while you are traveling?

Again, I commend the vendors on trying out a new form factor and user interface... I just find myself wondering why people won't simply want to use the consumer devices that are rapidly proliferating.

What do you think? Would you use a tablet from a communications vendor? Or would you want them to instead have apps that run on consumer devices?

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TechCrunch interview on Skype's plan for the enterprise

skypelogo-shadow.pngWhat are Skype's plans for the enterprise? What do they see as their target market? On Saturday, TechCrunch posted an interview, with David Gurle, Skype’s General Manager and Vice President of Enterprise, focusing on these questions: "Skype’s VP Of Enterprise On Future Strategy, Products And Competitors.

While not deep on details, the interview did offer a few interesting glimpses into their plans. For instance, Skype is looking at industry-specific business-to-consumer apps:

For example, Skype will soon be offering businesses a way to establish Skype-powered virtual video call centers, allowing enterprise customers to talk to their own customers across multiple devices, platforms, geographies, and more.

Such an offering could certainly be interesting. I was also intrigued by this:

When I asked him about Skype’s future, Gule says it is in creating a one-click solution to allow you to reach a partner, friend, manager, employee, or business contact from any platform.

The "directory problem" has always been a challenge, i.e. where does your master directory live... it will be interesting to see what Skype comes up with for their answer.

The interview has more info and is worth a read for those of us continuing to track and monitor what Skype is doing. As they push into the enterprise, it will be fun to see how their disruptive influence does as it meets the well-entrenched (and well-financed) players of the enterprise space.

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Phono - Your new, free tool for Rewiring the Real-time Web!

phonolivesintheweb.jpgWhat if you could have customers call in to your call center from directly within your web browser?  No "click to call" that calls them back on their cell phone... but literally just press a button on your web site and start talking?  And get connected directly to the team appropriate to the web page rather than a generic inbox?

What if you could do this with more than just voice... but also video?  screen sharing?  with better audio quality than the legacy telephony network (the PSTN)?

What if you could also add in live chat sessions directly from your website? Giving you true multi-channel interaction with your customers?

And what if you could do this without any downloads by the customer?

Even better... what if this could be done with your branding? and connecting to ANY IP communications system?

Announcing Phono

Today at the JQuery Conference in Boston, the Voxeo Labs team is announcing Phono a new software development kit that lets you create apps just like the ones I mentioned. It's free, it's "skinnable" and it works with any systems that use SIP or XMPP (Jabber). More info here:

The Phono SDK is free to download and use. You can also naturally follow Phono on Twitter or Facebook.

You can use it to connect to your IP-PBX... to applications on platforms like Tropo... or really any other IP communications / Unified Communications platform.

FAR More Than Just A Softphone

That last part is really the point... the Phono SDK being shown today is far more than "just" a softphone. Sure... that's what some of the first reference implementations are all about. Things like Twelephone that let you easily call all your Twitter friends... or Facebook Telephone that lets you call your Facebook Friends. You'll see some more apps like that in the coming weeks.

But Phono is more than that...

Phono is a toolkit for Rewiring the Real-time Web

We as an industry need to drop the shackles of the legacy telephone network... we need to move beyond the PSTN in true rich collaboration between people... wherever they may be.

Voice, chat, video, screensharing... whatever mode they want to work in... from basic web browsers to mobile devices...

Phono is our contribution to that... and to taking away friction from developers wanting to build communications apps that make the most of the new tools and media we have available to us.

Try it out!

We're excited to see what you'll do with it!

Extra bonus... here's a video intro:

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Skype 5.0 brings Facebook integration, group video - but ONLY if you are on Windows

skypefbphonebook.jpgSkype today released version 5.0 for Windows which looks quite cool...

but is also completely unusable to me.

First off, Skype 5.0 includes a brand new Facebook integration that wasn't in the beta program and, per Skype's blog post, let's you:


  • see your Facebook News Feed in Skype
  • post status updates that can be synced with your Skype mood message
  • comment and like friends’ updates and wall posts
  • call and SMS your Facebook friends on their mobile phones and landlines
  • make a free Skype-to-Skype call if your Facebook friend is also a Skype contact

Phil Wolff over at Skype Journal walks through the new release (which is where I got the screenshot at right) and shows how the integration works. You have a new "Facebook tab" in the 5.0 Skype version that has both a "News Feed" and a "Phonebook" subtab.

From what I've heard from folks trying it out this morning, the Phonebook does a one-time import of all your Facebook contacts and then you can call or SMS them via their regular PSTN phone (if it's in their Facebook profile) or via Skype if they are a contact. I'm not clear on how you keep it up-to-date with your Facebook friend list ... but I'm going to assume there is a re-import or something like that.

UPDATE #1: Jim Courtney tells me that the Phonebook appears to refresh every time you go into it and he has verified himself that information gets updated. Chaim Haas also notes that there are buttons to call or SMS people directly from within the NewsFeed - so if you were reading your Facebook NewsFeed and wanted to call or text someone related to their item in your feed you could do so right then.

As a huge daily user of Skype, I find this integration rather cool since it will let me reach people directly from within the Skype interface where I spend my time. Given that I find myself doing more text/chat interaction these days instead of voice, I'm not entirely sure how much I'll use the Phonebook... BUT... it does get closer to having a single directory that I can reference.

Skype 5.0 also has the group video calling that has been in all the betas and some other changes outlined in this video from Skype:

I do, though, have one issue with the content of the video...

The Failure of Skype 5.0

... Rick Osterloh says that group video is now rolled out to all users, which, of course, is completely false.

Group video calling is being rolled out to all Windows users.

Skype continues to miss the rise of Apple and the fact that so many of the early adopter set long ago left Windows for MacOS X. They continue to follow the fractured and fragmented product strategy that I've ranted about at length in the past (also here).

It's the same tired old story.

I'm a huge fan of Skype and a heavy daily user. I do video calls with people pretty much every day. I currently have 87 Skype chats open to various people, teams, projects and groups in which I participate. The main phone number I give to people on my blogs rings through to Skype (and my cell).

I'm a paying Skype customer.

Yet I am also on a Mac.

Along with 140 other heavy Skype-users at my company. Along with a good number of friends in the blogging community. Along with a ton of people in the IETF and bleeding-edge communication community.

I would love to write here about how great Skype 5.0 is ... and I'd love to use it and give Skype feedback... but I can't.

I of course realize that from a resource prioritization point-of-view, Skype's largest market it Windows. I get that. It's just too bad Skype can't figure out a way to come out on both platforms so that "all users" on both Mac and Windows could experience the cool new features. (Particularly since many of the Mac world are exactly the kinds of folks who seek out (and promote) "cool new features.") Of course that still leaves the Skype for Linux users out, too... but it would be a start.

Perhaps one day Skype will see the cross-platform light.... meanwhile, if you're on Windows, you can head over to and download 5.0 today.

Have fun with it - maybe someday others of us will get to play with it, too.

UPDATE #2: Skype lead blogger Peter Parkes mentioned to me that he put up a post on the Skype Mac blog today - undoubtedly because he knew he'd get flak like this from people like me. The post is basically a repeat of the last Mac blog post back in May... that group video will be coming, etc., etc. Peter does, though, promise:

we intend to give our app for Mac OS X a complete overhaul, both in terms of the way it looks, and in terms of functionality

We'll see what that means :-) Well, and when...

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