Twilio gives developers the gift of picture messaging, announcing MMS support

Twilio had a treat for developers in attendance at its annual shindig TwilioCon on Wednesday: a new API for Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS). In short, Twilio-powered apps can now send pictures to and receive pictures from a phone’s regular old text message client.

The new feature isn’t going to be earth-shattering in the world of photo app development. Any developer that regularly relies on picture, capture, upload and messaging – from Facebook(s fb) to Twitter to Instagram – simply builds those features into their apps. But what Twilio wants to capture are all of those companies that want to make use of visual imaging their service, even though it’s not a core part of their service, said Patrick Malatack, director of product management for Twilio.

The beauty of MMS is that it works on almost any phone on any carrier – you don’t need to have an app on the device or pre-integration with an operating system to send or receive a photo. For example, an insurance company could let you send photos of a car accident to a specially designated short code. Or a real estate agent could post a Twilio number on his or her “for sale” signs. To get info on a particular house listing you just text the address to the number and a few seconds later you receive a batch of interior shots in your messaging inbox, Malatack said.

If you’re the aforementioned insurance company, you might have an app that could handle the photo uploads for you. But how many people are really going to download their insurer’s app? By tapping a universal mobile service, developers can make picture messaging the universal means of visually communicating with any company or service, Malatack said.

Jeff Lawson
Jeff Lawson

MMS fits right into Twilio’s core mission of bridging carrier networks with the internet and app-development worlds – a topic that CEO Jeff Lawson will discuss in detail at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference in October. That approach has resonated with developers from Airbnb to Uber, allowing them to build up massive global customer communications networks with little infrastructure.

At TwilioCon the company revealed that Twilio developers have built apps that now touch 350 million people worldwide. Voice calls generated by Twilio’s APIs now number 4 million daily — up from 1.5 million a year ago. And though it didn’t release any specifics on its SMS volumes, Twilio said every 45 seconds it ferries enough text to carrier networks to fill the New York Times.

As for the MMS service, Twilio is charging more per message than it does SMS: 1 cent for an inbound photo and 2 cents for every outbound pic in the U.S. It is, however, lowering its SMS rates by 25 percent for both inbound and outbound U.S. messages.