iPhone: Apple's VoIP End-Game?

by Bruce Stewart

Chris Holland has penned an interesting post over on the Internet Brands Developer Blog, suggesting that Apple may have its sights set on integrating VoIP into the iPhone, making it a truly converged communications device. At first glance, it seems unlikely that Apple would be thinking this away about VoIP (and we KNOW AT&T isn't thinking this way), but Chris makes some excellent points and his predictions are really some food for thought.

I've grumbled about .Mac along with others and don't think Apple's online service offers much bang for the buck today, but if it became the integrated SIP provider that Chris envisions that could change everything.

A SIP Address looks just like an E-Mail address. A Person's SIP Address could easily be stored in the iPhone's Address Book. Apple could build SIP-capability right into the operating system, pre-configured with a number of existing SIP Providers for one-click setup, while still allowing for custom configuration, following a model very similar to E-Mail.

There are a few SIP Providers out there. But Apple could easily roll out its own SIP infrastructure as part of the .Mac framework, increasing their chances of providing a superior out-of-the-box experience, while promoting the .Mac brand to ... competitive usefulness. From here, the sky's the limit as to what Apple can do, leveraging iPhone's brand and near ubiquitous and still increasing WiFi penetration. Forget about fighting over 3G vs GSM. WiFi and IP are universal WorldWide.

What do you think? Has Chris been SIPping the VoIP kool-aid, or he is on to something?


2007-06-20 11:32:06
He's been sipping the Wifi kool-aid. I'd be delighted if the situation changes, but wifi is a very, very long way from 3G/GSM's ubiquity.

I'd also suggest a good copy editor if he's writing phrases like "universal WorldWide" :)

2007-06-20 11:40:43
iPhone gen 1.0, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 or 2.0?

It is going to happen, sooner preferably, later without a doubt.

chris holland
2007-06-20 11:52:21
A world without phone numbers sure would be nice :) Thanks for the shout out :)
chris holland
2007-06-20 12:12:43
fixed the WorldWide thing :P snap.

Also, WiFi doesn't have to be as ubiquitous as cell towers to be useful. We're talking about functionality to supplement 3G/GSM coverage. With proper user interface and correct expectations set, you could still provide a valuable, enhanced (better sound quality) and reliable service.

How many of us have WiFi in our homes connected to broadband? I could replace land-line service with an iPhone + SIP-powered VoIP package with my own phone number for bridging the PSTN. Normal phones could call me up.

What about work offices? An office could easily set-up a SIP gateway to their own internal PBX, saving money on calls. Blam.

Many Airports have plenty of WiFi coverage.

Many Municipalities also do.

So sure, you're not likely to be driving down the street placing WiFi/VoIP calls for quite some time, yet there are plenty of other places where this is realistically feasible, *today*, from a pure technology standpoint.

But execution goes far beyond mere technology, WiFi/SIP+VoIP phones sure aren't new, it takes a company with vision and the ability to execute on an end-to-end experience to bring communications revolution to the masses. If any body could pull this off, my bet's on Apple.

2007-06-20 12:15:51
I think that VOIP would be a long way off -- I'm sure that AT&T for saw VOIP as a possibility and has done everything they can to head this off. Why would they agree to overhaul their system for things like voicemail on demand without getting anything back other than the rights to sell the iPhone first? They wouldn't.

I think the reason for no third party API is that they know if there was one the first thing that would be written is the software to use the phone for VOIP (whether it be with Skype or some other service), thus cutting into AT&T's profits. Yes, AT&T would still make money from the data plan but an all you can use data package is cheap compared to an all the minutes you can use package. All of Apple's talk about wanting to make sure they can allow third party development that is secure is Apple's way of saying, "We want third party development that doesn't allow for our service provider to get screwed". This is why the whole "Make a web application" solution is what they came up with. Now there is no third party VOIP application possible.

chris holland
2007-06-20 13:57:51
... Well, before flat-out dismissing AT&T's willingness to play VoIP ball, remember that if Apple restricts VoIP calls to the WiFi interface, and not AT&T's GPRS data network (which i think would be crazy anyway), then the iPhone would essentially be doing no-different than any WiFi-enabled, Windows-Powered, PocketPC or SmartPhone out there. SIP clients and various flavors of IP Soft Phones have been available on handheld Windows devices for quite some time now.

It's not that far of a stretch to imagine iPhone doing the same thing, it's just that Apple has the know-how to make this incredibly user-friendly and nearly transparent to the user, in which case AT&T would indeed raise an eye-brow.

2007-06-20 14:31:47
That would be really great if Apple could pull it off. However, they can't seem to get simple file syncing to work reliably with .Mac, so I'm dubious.
Kevin S.
2007-06-20 19:45:52
What is SIP?
2007-06-28 00:29:07
I agree with Chris, and with a possible future widespread rollout of wimax it could be game over for AT&T.
2007-06-30 14:52:15
No, Chris is exactly right. Now that I have my iPhone I can tell that it's strange that I can send free SMS while connected to wifi but not be able to call using some sort of VOIP technology. I talked to Reuters today and they mentioned that there's a provider of VoIP through your browser however, so I'm looking into that. .Mac integration would be perfect though.