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The Search for Cool Apps

Telephony Online published a write-up of the VON Panel "The Search for Cool Apps".  This is perhaps one of the most unfortunate panels at the show.  Forever consigned to the last day of the show (this year, the last session of the show), and populated with speakers who aren’t applications people, I think this might be the most under-appreciated panel of the show.  It asks "What makes a cool application?  Is it innovation?  Ease of use?", and so on.

Liora Bram, director of mobile applications marketing for NMS Communications, seemed to defend the notion that cool apps are unpredictable.  “Ringback tones took off,” she said. “No one knew that was going to happen.”

Ringback tones make money, but they’re ear-candy.  Hardly a "cool application", they’re the equivalent of wallpaper on your PC desktop — a great, high margin, but ultimately stultifyingly boring business.

Jeff Liebl, vice president of marketing for Ubiquity Software, imagined a technician in the field using push-to-talk to contact his supervisor through her PC, telling her that a particular part is needed. After mutually consulting a supply database, she conferences in a parts supplier who is also in the field and dispatches the supplier to the technician’s location.

Isn’t this already available? Where’s the innovation?  What’s cool about using a phone to conference call people about a parts database?

Steve Blumenthal, Bridgeport’s chief technology officer, envisioned a businessman with a bluetooth-enabled laptop and a presence-aware mobile phone. While he’s at his desk, he uses his office softphone, but when he walks out the door, the bluetooth system senses that he’s left and activates his mobile phone, forwarding calls to his mobile as he sees fit. When he returns to his office, the system senses his presence again, disables his mobile phone and sends all calls to his desktop softphone again.

Ah, now this one is getting interesting.  Call forwarding, presence, and bluetooth, all at once.  Frankly, we should be thinking about a lot more applications like this.  What does the world look like when Web 2.0 meets VoIP?  What kinds of applications can be built when desktop software, and API’s, can be used to control calls in the network?  What do you get when you mash-up Skype, Plaxo, EBay, Amazon, and Google?  What do you get when you build PayPal into the phone network?

For the first time ever, the web and the voice network are one and the same.  Bits that represent voice are on the web!  What else could we do?  When will it happen?  When, for instance, will I be able to have transcriptions of conference calls automatically created during the call, and emailed to participants afterward?  When can I call my <dentist, lawyer, accountant>’s office, have a voice interaction with their calendar, book an appointment, and have that calendar entry put into both of our calendars — all by voice?  Oh, and have the system know that I am an important customer of my <dentist, lawyer, accountant> and prioritize my appointment high.

I’d really love to organize the next applications panel. People will be talking when they leave, and it won’t be about ringtones. 

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