Jeff’s VoIP Questions

June 1, 2007

in VoIP

Now you almost just know I am going to disagree with the framing of the next question. Jeff Pulver asks (prompted by Luca) “What kind of VoIP user are you? Do you prefer Softphones or IP Phones?”  “For myself, when I am in the office or in my home, I prefer using “a phone”. And when I’m on the road if using my cell phone isn’t an option, I will use a softphone. But not as a first choice. What about YOU?”

I simply don’t think we “users” “people” think about this as a trade-off. There is no useful learning from knowing what kind of VoIP user I am, other than that I am a geeky enough to know there are trade-offs. I do think Jeff is close in his answer which I think means he prefers a handset. Ie communicating via voice by speaking into something he’s holding in his hand.

I’d suggest that the deciders are:
Handheld – Stationary (increasingly VoIP handheld N95 or cordless phone)
Handheld – Mobile (at home it is VoIP on the N95 set to automatic)
Handsfree – Stationary (headset often when working and at the PC – My Skype Mode most often)
Handsfree – Mobile (travelling in the car – bluetooth)
Video Communication -Stationary

It doesn’t matter whether it goes over VoIP or PSTN or some satellite. What matters is the connection and call quality. Cost is becoming less relevant. Frankly if you came into my house and used my phones you wouldn’t know whether it was VoIP or not.

Handsets require us to listen better than headsets particularly full headsets often used with programs like Skype. Plus you only need to look at a kid to see how they walk around with the phone to find privacy etc. Handsets also enable more gesticulating or related positions than being tied to a headset where notes may be being taken, typed in etc.  Headsets are more conducive to conference calls (less attention being paid) etc. Video is a strange mix and obviously VoIP.

At this point the whole handset thing become more complicated. Because SMS is still better than chat for many things; we just don’t really know how to reach for it first yet.  Blackberry proves the point where users are emailing in real-time and not using SMS.

I prefer click to call or simple voice dialing. My mobile or a Skype buddylist is better than dialing numbers. So softphone style interaction with my buddylist is helpful. Thus the mobile wins again as they tend to be click to call. Still they are dumb directories and I may get the wrong choice of number for you.

What this means to me is my super Nokia N95 mobile with Wi-Fi, like the N80 before is winning the battle. It’s cheap / free VoIP where I work and at home. It’s handsfree when I need it. Increasingly all the VoIP calls I make are free. I know they are VoIP and my wife knows they are VoIP to NZ when the phone is too far away from the Wi-Fi signal and the call drops. It also happens to do that chat / SMS thing.

Example: My brother SMS’ed me yesterday “out of the blue” with a “what was the best holiday you ever had?” He was in a group they were all reaching out to find out. It’s a new norm; something you can do!

The reality is we don’t think about VoIP. It is just an underlying enabling technology. Thus all the battles continue to be on price! We do however think about talking, leaving or sending messages, and about exchanges. We do think about:

  • Who’s calling?
  • Is the ringer on? Silent mode? Will a phone call now embarrass me?
  • Where’s the number?
  • How do I get in touch?
  • Is it a good time to call?
  • Will they remember who I am?
  • Will they know who is calling? Etc.

These are examples of things we should be fixing and considering. VoIP is part of the enablement of new solutions for addressing all of these.  So far we’ve really only just seen them beginning to emerge in formats that are more friendly on the desktop. We’ve also learned that the desktop is only a small portion of the total talk time.  The answer will emerge on the mobile; however not before a lot of new thinking has gone into the User experience.

Unfortunately even questions I disagree with can be useful. Still I’d never start probing a focus group on VoIP I’d start with communications. VoIP remains a great technical step forward; it will only really be meaningful if it enable new services. I think some of the comments Jeff got actually confirm this to. It goes to the mode of communication something I’ve written about many times. On the softphone side (Skype) itimacy also plays a role. The risk is that this question is not answered at a deep level. Skype’s sound quality (hey Gtalk too) still provides for the most intimate communications; better nuanced than the phone. I’m sure many  traveller’s would prefer it calling home or to their partner rather than the phone. So for some calls taking the laptop to bed to make it is natural. However, it is not VoIP or the laptop that is winning it is the need for deeper intimacy. You won’t get this answer by just a superficial question.

In the frame of future technical questions I’d like to know 1) What will make the increasing fragmentation of channels from a user point of view simply go away? and 2) How we will manage the coming deluge of Voice Spam?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

VoIPReviewer June 3, 2007 at 11:21 pm

I myself am an occasional voip user. I don’t go out of my way to make a voip call, however if it’s more convenient or significantly cheaper then I will. However it will sort of just slide right into society to be just as ubiquitous as everything else we use is this modern world.

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