CES: VoxOx attempts communication unification, again

The small-time, top-heavy IM and VoIP program VoxOx takes again to unify the myriad ways we communicate. Will the new look and features help it catch on this time?

Seth Rosenblatt Former Senior Writer / News
Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
Seth Rosenblatt
3 min read

LAS VEGAS--VoxOx debuted several years ago as a high-powered multi-protocol chat alternative that incorporated some nifty VoIP features thanks to its parent company, a small telecom outfit called TelCentris.

Today at CES 2011, TelCentris announces a revamped VoxOx with an emphasis on simplicity and messaging unification.

VoxOx's new unified messaging window. TelCentris

The big improvement to the latest version of the program, available for Windows and Mac, is the unified messaging window. People will be able to interact via instant message, SMS, VoIP phone calls, and social networking all from the same communications stream. This includes voice mail transcriptions similar to Google Voice, although TelCentris Chief Technology Officer Kevin Hertz asserted in an interview prior to the VoxOx announcement that VoxOx's transcriptions are of a notably higher quality than Google Voice's.

Hertz's example of how the unified messaging window can work started with a voice mail left on a phone number that's been associated with VoxOx. That voice mail's transcription will then appear in the unified messaging window under the contact who left the voice mail. The VoxOx user can then initiate a call back from within VoxOx, send an SMS to the contact's mobile number, reply by instant message, or send a tweet.

The program's contact list has also received the unified treatment, and it now supports merging contacts with an intuitive drag-and-drop. In use, it felt similar to Google's recent contact merging option in Gmail, although it lacks Gmail's select-all and merge buttons. (Watch a video demo of the VoxOx contact merge feature.)

VoxOx's Call Connect, the rebranded and expanded Call Back feature from previous versions, can now trigger VoIP calls on any phone, as well as via SMS and computer. You can also choose the U.S.-based phone number that you receive when you complete the required, free registration process. (VoxOx has made a video demo of Call Connect, too.)

The guts of VoxOx have received a fairly significant overhaul, according to Hertz and at least cursorily verified after an hour or so of hands-on testing. In part, this is due to what Hertz described as better API support from services such as Facebook and Skype, although in the case of Call Connect, TelCentris invested in a new data center to ensure the feature's stability. This version feels like the most stable version of VoxOx yet, though the program's top-heavy approach to features have plagued it with usability problems since it was originally released in 2008.

Mobile apps are on the way for VoxOx users. VoxOx's new senior product manager, Matt Howell, confirmed that an iPhone app for VoxOx is awaiting App Store approval, and that an Android app is planned.

TelCentris is also soft-launching the Web site KeepTheNetFree.org at CES 2011, which aims to promote Net neutrality by advocating policy positions that "put the user first," CEO Bryan Hertz said in a statement explaining the move. It's not a surprising one, though, given that smaller telecoms like TelCentris stand to lose big if the larger players control the marketplace's pipelines.

To support the relaunching of VoxOx, San Diego-based TelCentris has sponsored an iPhone giveaway at CES this year. Attendees who spot a costumed alien on the show floor and repeat the phrase "Speak Free with VoxOx" will win an iPhone--no mean feat given the number of costumed aliens known to roam free at CES. The offer is limited to one phone giveaway every 20 minutes.