Over the last few weeks I’ve been playing with the beta of a promising new free service called hullo.Â Now you can try it too.
hullo bills itself as a personal call manager.Â The promise is that it will help you stay in touch better than ever before.Â Â It incorporates aÂ buddy-list style softphone withÂ some very slick advanced telephony features.Â For instance:
- You can quickly and easily have a conversation with as many people as you want. Just select the people you want to talk with and bring them into the conference.Â It will scale pretty much infinitely, because it’s not peer-to-peer based, relying on Versatel Networks EdgeIQ series hardware on the backend to handle the traffic.Â In fact, hullo has a “cafe” which is an open party line that anyone can jump into and start talking — the voice equivalent of a text chat room.
- It has theÂ ability to create sophisticated find-me rules.Â These can be assigned on an individual basis too, so you can have different rules for different people.Â Want your buddies to be able to track you down on your cell phone, but not your boss?Â Not a problem.Â
- Don’t like talking on a headset?Â Use your ordinary phone instead.Â When you click onÂ your buddy’s name in the hullo contact list, it will ringÂ your choice of handset, and your buddy at the same time.Â Â You can make and receive calls on any handset you choose. This will be a killer feature if they migrate it to a cellular handset.
- hulloÂ also does mid-call transfers.Â Need to continue a conversation you started at home, but from your car?Â No problem.Â hullo can move the call to your cell.Â
Installing the software is simple.Â Simply visit hullo.com, and click on download.Â It does the usual things installers do.Â Because I’m a bit of aÂ legalities nut, I actually read their lengthy license agreement, which, unusually, includes a confidentiality provision.Â I installed the software in spite of it, concluding that sinceÂ hullo was public beta, it wasn’t confidential anymore.Â Â The installer will pull down the .NET runtime if you haven’t already loaded it, so be patient.Â
Once installed, the client pops up, asks you to create an account, and then you’re off!Â
The first thing hullo does is pop up a screen prompting you to make a call.Â Just enter in a phone number, and your own number, and it will make the connection.Â Your phone will ring, and the other phone will ring, andÂ then you’re talking.Â It’s that easy.
hullo will also prompt you to import contacts from MSN or Outlook.Â There appears to be a limit of about 300 contacts, so if you have a large contact list (mine is over 3,000) then you will need to select the buddies you want to include.Â Once imported, it will then allow you to send invitations to everyone you’ve selected as well.
Using hullo is dead simple.Â Simply click one of your contacts, and click call.Â If the contact is also a hullo user, it will use the findme features to hunt that contact down.Â Otherwise it will simply ring that persons number.Â Want to add someone to a call?Â Just drag them into the current call window, and hullo will call them and add them to the call.Â Want to transfer the call to another of your phones?Â Just select a phone.Â The photo on the right shows a conference call with the transfer window pulled down.Â It’s that simple.
Best of all, all North American calls are free, whether you make them on the softclient, or on a handset, and whether you make them to another hullo member, or to a non-member.Â When compared to Skype, this means you can make aÂ free call from anyÂ handset as well as a PC.Â And when compared to Gizmo, you can make a free call to anybody, not just a nother Gizmo member.Â This up’s the ante significantlyÂ in the price spat Skype and Gizmo started.
The company is focusing their launch on the college and high school crowd.Â The features have been designed recognizing that young people are increasingly the most sophisticated users of mobile phones.Â hullo‘s feature set makes it easy to use those phones to socialize, arrange events, or stay in touch with friends and family who might live in different cities.Â It’s not hard to imagine how appealing this will be for students away from home for the first time.
Whatâ€™s missing?Â Instant messaging and presence.Â For now the focus seems to be solely on voice.Â No doubt these will be addressed in a future release, as they are two popular features with the college crowd.Â
WithÂ a little luck, viral adoption,Â and good marketing, hullo could easily surpass Skype and Gizmo in North American usage.Â Call quality is better, you can use any handset you like, there are no restrictions on free usage, and youÂ get a bunch of very appealing new features.Â