Apple Computer, Inc. has updated the iPhone developer SDK to allow VoIP over cellular networks. iCall is the first and only VoIP application that functions on the iPhone and iPod Touch over cellular 3G networks.
iCall CEO Arlo Gilbert is quoted as saying, “I applaud Apple’s decision to allow iCall to extend its functionality beyond Wi-Fi and onto the 3G networks. This heralds a new era for VoIP applications on mobile platforms, especially for iCall and our free calling model. I hope that now more developers will begin using our VoIP as a platform to integrate VoIP into their applications.”
CNET was also able to get comment from both AT&T and Apple confirming that VoIP applications are now supported on the 3G network.
AT&T said it informed Apple and the Federal Communications Commission of its decision Tuesday afternoon.
“We are very happy that AT&T is now supporting VoIP applications,” Apple spokesperson Natalie Kerris said. “We will be amending our developer agreements to get VoIP apps on the App Store and in customers’ hands as soon as possible.”
VoIP on the iPad?
At yesterday’s announcements Apple reiterated over and over that “virtually” all of the 140,000+ apps in the App Store would work with the iPad. Skype was mentioned by David Pogue in his coverage and I’m fairly certain Apple provided him with more briefing on the iPad than they did for me. While there is no explicit announcement confirming VoIP for the $29 unlimited 3G service, it seems possible that iCall (or Skype) would run unaltered on the iPad and would work over the 3G data plan. This could mean a $30/month unlimited calling plan for the iPad that would work anywhere, not just when in range of a Wi-Fi signal.
VOIP Means the iPad Needs Multitasking
While I was quick to dismiss the early complaints about the lack of multitasking on the iPad, it seems that VoIP calling is a critical application that would require this functionality. On the iPhone, it is really convenient to jump into email and contacts while on a phone call to pull up some information relevant to the conversation. It will be really annoying to be on a VoIP call on your iPad and have to hang up (by quitting the VoIP app) to look something up.
I suspect we will see some VoIP apps with integrated web browsing for the simple reason that conference calls with web slides will work a lot better if you can look at the slides while on the call.
It is less clear if this change in the terms of the SDK and AT&T’s policies will allow Google to move forward with a native iPhone app. Apple apparently rejected the app because it substantially duplicated existing functionality and the interface could confuse customers. Google Voice is not a VoIP application in that it actually uses your cell phone minutes by redirecting calls to and from your Google Voice number (which might result in free calling using AT&T’s A-List feature). Still, if there are VoIP apps that run on 3G, it seems like the duplication and confusion arguments would be weakened and might convince Apple to approve the Google Voice app. In the mean time, I have found the new Google Voice web app to be a good implementation given the lack of integration that would have been possible with a native app.