About a decade ago, making mobile voice calls didn’t offer many options: You simply paid for a certain number of minutes, were charged extra for calling to other networks or to international numbers at set prices. Fast forward to today and we have video calls on handsets, and can even call phones from our computers by way of Google Talk (s goog). Wouldn’t it be nice if our smartphones used their intelligence to automatically route voice calls in the cheapest way possible? That idea is the premise behind Bababoo, an iPhone (s aapl) app that could help consumers save money without any change in how they place calls.
From an end-user standpoint, the Bababoo application replaces the iPhone’s Dialer application with the same look and feel. The software uses the iPhone’s contact database so there’s no need to manually create an Address Book. You can also tag Favorite contacts or create Groups of contacts for group calling. A single setup step is needed for Bababoo to confirm your handset’s phone number. When placing a call through Bababoo, there is one huge difference from native calling, however. The software looks at both the handset connections — WiFi, 3G data or cellular voice — as well as where you are and who you’re calling, then places the call in the most inexpensive method
For example, if you and the person you want to reach are both on a data connection and are Bababoo network members, the service routes the call for free. No WiFi or 3G in the area? No problem: Bababoo connects the call over the handset’s carrier network as if you used the native dialing app. The company touts low per-minute costs and will use them in lieu of carrier minutes if cheaper. Domestic calls in the continental U.S. are $0.017 cents per minute, for example, while calling a London mobile customer is $0.16 per minute. A full listing of rates is available on Bababoo’s website and Bababoo credits can be purchased directly in the application.
Since the software is smart enough to use the lowest rate, early testers have been able to drop down one full voice plan, according to the company. Dropping down from a 900 minute voice plan to one with 450 minutes, for example, can save up to $20 in monthly operator costs, depending on your carrier. Offsetting those lost minutes with free calls to other Bababoo members or through less expensive per-minute charges can be a net savings for some. While savings is welcome by all, the more disruptive aspect is that no behavior change is needed since the application intelligently routes calls in the most cost-effective way.
I don’t have any friends on Bababoo just yet, so I can’t yet speak to the call quality over a data network. Using the app to place a regular call was literally no different than using the native iPhone dialer, however. The only issue I can think of with the app for now is network transition: calls on data connections won’t seamlessly switch to a cellular network if the data connection is lost. If you start a call on Wi-Fi, you either have to stay put or the call will drop when leaving the coverage area. That’s true of many other Wi-Fi calling apps as well, so it’s not a problem specific to Bababoo.
While the software offers features found in many other VoIP and voice calling apps, the biggest appeal (besides potential savings) is the automatic nature of the call routing. What was once the domain of a basic feature phone is now an intelligent solution to place voice calls at the lowest possible cost without any thought or interaction on the user’s part. Bababoo, available now in the iTunes App Store, pairs the words “smart” and “phone” when it comes to voice calls.