SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A Silicon Valley start-up that lets software programmers embed phone-like voice features in everything from Web sites to computers, to phones themselves, unveiled its first product for consumers on Monday.
The company, known as Ribbit, is introducing a service called Amphibian which plays on the notion that its technology works in and out of the water -- making voice features found on phones accessible on their computers or via many Web sites.
”We are merging computers and telephony in a true sense, said Crick Waters, Ribbit’s vice president of strategy, who played a key role in starting several Internet businesses at former employers AT&T Inc and NorthPoint Communications.
Amphibian -- set to be launched during the first quarter -- will be announced this week in Palm Desert, California at DEMO, a semi-annual conference that serves as a launch pad for new, up-and-coming technology companies.
Consumers can have two-way phone conversations through Web pages. Incoming calls can be sent to voicemail for automatic transcription, allowing them to be read back or forwarded like e-mail on computers or on mobile phones. This feature is made possible by voicemail transcription service SimulScribe.
It uses Flash and Flex design software from Adobe Systems Inc, allowing developers to build “virtual phones” that run as computer applications or work on Web sites. More than 2,500 developers have signed up to build Ribbit services.
In a telecoms industry dominated by proprietary software built and controlled by individual network operators, Ribbit presents an alternative using standard Web development tools.
As a start-up with limited resources, Ribbit must move carefully in a market that not only incumbent phone equipment makers Cisco Systems Inc and Avaya Inc covet, but where Google Inc and Microsoft Corp have becoming aggressive players.
Waters said the company is setting out to give individual users, whether business professional or consumers at home, the freedom to pick and choose specific telecom services. Its software hooks up standard phone services to the Web.
Users simply forward their mobile phone numbers to Ribbit, which delivers the calls back to personalized Amphibian Web pages that offer a series of unified communications features.
Pricing has yet to be determined, Ribbit executives said, but they added that they are considering charging $10 a month for retrieving 40 voicemails via text. An unlimited transcription service might run $15 or so a month, they added.
While the company initially has focused on demonstrating its usefulness to businesses, telephone carriers and software developers, its new push aims to popularize the power of its software, dubbed “voiceware,” for regular consumers.
Ribbit plans to showcase how users of personalized Web pages from Facebook, Google, MySpace or Netvibes, as well as business contact management applications like Salesforce, can take phone calls via their Web pages using Amphibian.
As a demonstration of the power of Ribbit, one independent developer using new Adobe AIR software has built a full-featured version of Apple Inc’s iPhone that works on Web pages.
IDC analyst Will Stofega cautions that some of what Ribbit is showing is merely “the latest stupid phone tricks” rather than a stand-alone business. But the flexibility that Ribbit gives developers of telecom software could prove the sort of powerful alternative to spark rapid change in the industry.
Ribbit also introduced an online marketplace for users to find new ”voiceware’ applications created using its software.
The company raised $13 million funding from investors including Alsop-Louie Partners, Jean-Louis Gassee’s Allegis Capital and KPG Ventures.
Editing by Tim Dobbyn