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Twilio adds Picture Messaging service for developers' apps

The cloud communications platform said that it will now let developers build in the ability for users to send images through their mobile apps in the U.S. and Canada.

Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson at the San Francisco startup's offices. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Twilio, a startup with a platform for developing cloud-based communications apps, today announced Picture Messaging, a feature that enables developers to build mobile apps that let users send images.

The service, which utilizes multimedia messaging system, or MMS, will initially allow end users to send pictures via short codes -- generally five-digit numbers accessed on mobile devices -- in the United States, and full phone numbers in Canada. Given that Twilio has been gradually expanding its platform globally, Picture Messaging could well expand to other countries in the future.

Today, of course, most wireless carriers allow users to send pictures directly to each other via MMS. But Twilio's Picture Messaging will extend that functionality to developers' apps. The San Francisco company's platform has for several years been geared toward giving developers tools for embedding communications services that bypass carriers into their apps.

The service will support sending JPEG, GIF, and PNG images, and will cost developers two cents for outbound messages, and one cent for inbound. Twilio is also charging a onetime $500 fee to enable the service for U.S. short codes.

Because those short codes are largely employed by larger companies, it's likely that in the early going, Picture Messaging will be used in enterprise applications in the United States. But the company expects to expand to full phone numbers in the U.S.

Twilio also said today that it has lowered the cost of sending or receiving phone number-based text messages to just $0.0075 per message, and that it is expanding the number of characters in a message from 160 to 1,600.

The venture-funded startup already has more than 150,000 developers building cloud-based VoIP, text messaging, and phone functionality into their existing applications. Among the companies it counts as clients are, LinkedIn, GroupMe, eBay, Airbnb, and Hulu.