For start-up Aplio, it's not what Net users are talking about that matters, it's what they're talking on.
The privately held company says its first product, to be announced next week, transforms the everyday telephone into a conversation piece for placing voice calls over the Internet instead of ordinary phone lines.
With Aplio's standalone Internet phone, dialers need neither a PC nor expensive software to place Net calls, the company said. Like other voice-over-the-Net products, users don't accrue long distance charges, since speaking over the Net costs gabbers only the price of their own Internet connection.
The one technical condition, however, is that users on both ends have to use Aplio's technology.
Aplio plugs into the familiar telephone, similar to the way an answering machine does. With Aplio, a caller dials someone as if placing a regular call, but when connected switches the line from phone communication to ISP by simply pressing a button on the Aplio Phone.
The technology uses Aplio's IP-Finder server to allow the Aplio Phones at each end to "find" each other's Internet addresses automatically and quickly, the company said. The IP-Finder server also notifies the owner of the Aplio Phone when a new software version is available for download through the Internet.
Aimed at small businesses and individuals who frequently place long distance calls to the same locations, the product can save such callers up to 95 percent off their phone bills, the company said. Long distance calls, including expensive international calls, become the same price as local calls. Also, because calls are initiated just as dialing up a next-door neighbor, there is no need for prearranged meeting times as with some other types of Net-based phone chats.
Olivier Zitoun, president of Aplio's U.S. operations, said, "When using PCs to converse using the Internet, both users need expensive, powerful computers. Also, the setup is often too complex for a typical home or small-business user."
However, Internet telephony is far from a perfect technology. Poor quality is the most common complaint of those talking through Net connections.
Aplio Phone is currently in beta testing and should be available by the end of the month. An Aplio Phone will cost $179, while the Aplio Phone starter kit, which includes a phone, will be priced at $379.