Talkatone on iOS: Google Chat, Voice Calls Over 3G, WiFi

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Earlier today, someone on Twitter asked me to recommend a decent Google Talk app for iOS devices. I recommended BeejiveIM at $9.99, which I bought for my iPhone 3GS back in 2009 but haven’t used much because I migrated to a Google Nexus One last January. Moments later, another Twitter user, Milenkod, suggested I look at Talkatone for iOS, and I’m glad I did. It’s a free application that not only supports Google Talk for instant messaging, but also Google Voice for making and receiving calls over 3G and Wi-Fi. And it’s even more full featured than the official Google Voice client for iOS that arrived in September.

I’ve used Talkatone on and off throughout the day on my iPod touch, and due to my reliance on Google services, I’ll be using it in lieu of Beejive going forward. I will lose one key advantage, however: Beejive supports multiple chat platforms such as AIM, GTalk and MSN, while Talkatone is strictly tied to Google for chat. There’s also no group chat functionality with Talktatone. But for a Google Voice user, the benefit of one app for IM and voice calls may outweigh these missing features.

Based on the configuration, Talkatone appears to be leveraging the new “Call Phone” Gmail feature that Google added to Google Talk last August. Once I had the app set up, I had my son call my Google Voice number, and my iPod touch immediately began ringing like a phone. One button tap later, I was having a voice conversation from my iPod touch to his iPhone 4, just as if he had called my Nexus One smartphone. The Talktatone folks say they have basic Bluetooth support built-in, but I haven’t tried using a wireless headset with the app just yet. In speakerphone mode, the call quality was acceptable on my iPod; I was also able to use an iPhone headset for a conversation.

 

The free software does take advantage of Apple’s background task function in iOS4, so Talktatone will pop up notifications as needed for calls or chats. The chat feature isn’t that much different from most others on the market, although Talkatone uses a multiple-window approach to manage conversations and contacts; swiping left or right steps you through the various chats or contact screen. There’s also a button to share your location with any of your Google contacts.

The Talkatone folks don’t recommend using the app over 3G just yet, which could mean they’re still working on efficient voice codecs that work on slower or variable network connections. Voice calls over cellular connections are likely to still be clearer. But I’m fine with that for now; my iPod touch just became much more useful around the house and at hotspots, both for instant messages and voice conversations to and from cellular phones.

Ironically, I did some of my free Talkatone testing with customers on the Verizon network, which just set a $0.0007 cent rate for VoIP calls terminating on their network. I plan to use this app while the service remains free, because although the FCC hasn’t set pricing on VoIP calls, the carriers are starting to take it upon themselves to make business agreements.

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