Thrutu’s In-Call Media Sharing App Comes to the iPhone

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Silicon Valley subsidiary of a UK-based voice-over-IP provider called Metaswitch Networks. The underlying intention, according to Mairs and Rice, is to give people a new way of thinking about the old-fashioned phone call. Smartphone owners themselves have come up with plenty of new uses for the app, Rice says. “An archaeologist was showing pictures of things she finds on digs, and their locations. We’ve had people going shopping and calling up their friends for advice—‘Should I get the green top or the blue top?'”

In June, Thrutu released a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) for the service, which means outside developers can now build their own buttons for the Thrutu app. About 50 developers have signed up for the program so far, according to Rice. The first third-party button activates location sharing via a Hebrew-language version of a crowdsourced Waze map. (New buttons will show up first on the Android app, and later on the iPhone.)

A photo shared via Thrutu

The APIs also allow developers to license Thrutu’s features for incorporation into other apps, Rice says. For example, LinkedIn could add a button to its own iPhone or Android apps allowing connected members to initiate Thrutu-enhanced phone calls and exchange professional contacts. Or Zynga could use it to let people playing the mobile version of Farmville exchange virtual items. Such licensing deals could provide one future revenue source for the startup, whose parent company Metaswitch is backed by Sequoia Capital.

Thrutu could face competition, though, from another burgeoning telecommunications option: video calling. Skype, Tango, Apple’s FaceTime, and several other apps let smartphone and tablet users make live video calls, which means, in effect, that they’re sharing media throughout the call. (As the owner of an iPhone 4 and an iPad 2, I’ve found FaceTime to be an addictive alternative to a regular voice call.)

Rice speculates that user uptake of video calling apps on mobile devices may be slow. “It’s one of those things people have been talking about for years, and the reality of it never quite seems to keep up with the hype,” she says. But she says there’s nothing stopping a third-party developer from adding a video-calling button to Thrutu. The startup itself opted not to create one because “we wanted to concentrate on our special sauce; we didn’t want to build a video solution that would be an also-ran compared to Skype and FaceTime. Coexistence is the way forward.”

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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