Thrutu Reinvents the Phone Call, Letting Smartphone Users Share Photos, Contacts, Location In-Call

3/3/11Follow @wroush

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their appearance, and who they’re with. Video is one future application that could be added to Thrutu for those situations where you do want to go into video. But if you just want to share a camera shot, Thrutu is more appropriate, or if you just want to share your location.”

Sequoia Capital invested in Metaswitch in 2008. Jim Goetz, a Sequoia partner who focuses on cloud and mobile technology, says Thrutu is the end product of a decision at the company more than a year ago to move a small contingent of engineers from London to Silicon Valley, where they could be in closer touch with the community of developers that has emerged to build consumer apps for the Android and iPhone ecosystems. For a time, Sequoia’s Sand Hill Road offices served as the Metaswitch team’s incubation space.

“In Europe this team has an organization that dominates voice over IP, with an interesting history out of Oxford and Cambridge,” says Goetz. “They are voice experts, and they have built-world class voice technology that powers most voice calls through North American carriers. They looked at lots of different approaches to the market and concluded that the traditional phone call needed to be elevated, with the transition to smartphones. And they began to put a lot of energy into Thrutu, which is not only a client app, but leverages a lot of cloud technology on the back end.” In particular, Thrutu had to come up with a new so-called “sharding” mechanism for matching up two phones linked only by an active call and passing data between them over a separate Internet connection.

Goetz says it would have been difficult for a less experienced team to come up with a product like Thrutu. “The voice-over-IP ecosystem is a bit of a black art,” he says. “There are a bunch of nuanced issues that aren’t at the forefront for people who are doing iPhone or Android development, and the Thrutu team has an unfair advantage because of that. There just hasn’t been a lot of innovation around the phone call over the last decade—and certainly nothing like this.”

The Thrutu app is free to consumers, and there are no fees for sending data, beyond what cellular subscribers are already paying to their operators. But Metaswitch could earn money down the road by licensing the Thrutu software to carriers and handset makers for direct integration into handsets. “There may be ways of working with carriers where we could offer premium version of Thrutu that go beyond the pure over-the-top client,” says Mairs. “Having talked to carriers about voice and data technology in general, I think they can see a lot of synergies with what they are doing in the long term.”

In addition to the photo, contact, and location sharing functions, Thrutu has a more whimsical feature: the “prod.” It’s a button that causes the other party’s phone to vibrate. Rice describes it as “a tactile emoticon”—a way to gently jar or tease the other caller.

Thrutu is available in the Android Market starting today for phones with the Android 2.1 operating system or above. Mairs says iPhone and BlackBerry versions will be ready “well within” this calendar year—assuming the company can earn the blessings of Apple and RIM for an app that superimposes itself over a phone’s built-in dialer app. “Obviously we are thinking very carefully about the issues of how to get through the App Store approval process,” says Mairs. “We certainly believe [Thrutu] is compatible with their guidelines.”

Here’s a quick video from Thrutu explaining how the app works:

Xconomy goes the extra mile to bring you in-depth startup profiles. Compare this story to:

Thrutu Makes Phone Call Multitasking Easy (GigaOm)
Thrutu Aims to Let Android Callers Do More While on the Phone (All Things Digital)

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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