Sure, Google Voice is cool, but it's not necessarily the best Web-meets-phone service one can imagine, is it? The field is still open, and switchboard-in-the-cloud company Ribbit (a division of BT) will stir things up when users get their hands on Ribbit Mobile, a new telephony service for consumers.
Like Google Voice as of last week, Ribbit Mobile adds services to your existing mobile phone number, using a standard telephone company service called Conditional Call Forwarding. You set up your phone service to route to the service when you don't pick up the phone, and it gives you all its features on the calls it then grabs: voicemail, forwarding, routing, and so on.
Ribbit Mobile isn't purely a mobile app, name notwithstanding. Rather, the "Mobile" means that your phone number becomes nomadic, moving to and temporarily setting up residence on whatever voice platform you want to use at any moment, be it a mobile number, a landline, or a VoIP system. Users set up their Ribbit Mobile features on a Flash-based Web site. Smartphone apps are coming, as is, most likely, another Apple app store approval drama.
Ribbit CEO Ted Griggs doesn't seem to want Ribbit compared directly to Google Voice, since Ribbit is a telephony platform company with ambitions well beyond the consumer app. Ribbit's revenues to date have come from its platform business. But Ribbit Mobile will be compared with Google Voice, and it's a fair and interesting battle.
Ribbit Mobile bests Google Voice in a few key ways. Its voicemail transcription feature will be better, although users won't get that feature for nothing. Free users will get machine speech-to-text, with likely the same quality of amusing and borderline-useless transcriptions as in Google Voice. But paid users will also have the option of using human-assisted transcription so their voicemail-to-text messages are actually sensible and useful.
Ribbit can also connect to VoIP services like Skype or SIP phones (Google works with phone-company phones and SIP, but not directly with Skype), as well as voice-chat features in some IM services, and you can transfer calls between phones while you're talking.
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