Chicago-based TIP Solutions has partnered with tech investor and former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal to spread the word about the new ways it lets customers respond to phone calls.
TIP Solutions’ first product is free Android app CallSnap, which allows users to decline calls by sending a picture, clip-art image or recorded voice message in return.
Company president Michael Unetich expects the photo-sharing and communications combo will resonate with teens and 20-somethings. A user who’s at a concert, for example, could skip the incoming call while sending back a picture of that scene.
Since the app launched in mid-2013, the company said, it has been downloaded 80,000 times worldwide, a figure Unetich hopes will balloon with the help of O’Neal, who also has a stake in the company. He’ll promote it online and at tech conferences.
“I’ve always tried to be ahead of the curve in technology and am drawn to companies that are unique and innovative,” O’Neal wrote in a statement emailed to Blue Sky Innovation.
Next up is the Smart Calls Platform, a firmware-based call management technology that is built into phones at the time of manufacturing. Its two features are HOLD-ON!, which allows users to “politely delay the pickup of incoming calls,” and GOT-CALL, which connects and plays a recorded message that acknowledges the call and explains the user will respond later. Unetich said these tools help stave off “hammer callers,” or those who hit redial until someone finally picks up.
India’s Spice Mobility is testing the sale of 50,000 Smart Calls-enabled phones to assess demand. Unetich said Indian consumers like the voice-response option, which allows users to communicate in any language. Though the service is now free, customers will likely pay a monthly fee of about 75 cents to use the service in the future.
TIP Solutions’ third product, Call Check, alerts users to calls missed while off the network — while on a plane, for example, or while their phone is turned off. Unetich said business travelers, particularly those in sales, have a desire to capture every call, regardless of whether the caller left a voicemail. Unetich plans to roll out Call Check with a $1.99 monthly fee on Android by the end of March, with an iPhone version coming by mid-year.
Though visual voicemail and responding with a text are already popular, Jan Dawson, chief analyst at consumer-technology firm Jackdaw Research, sees a general shift away from voice-based communication that may create space for more tools like these.
“This kind of space has always existed,” Dawson said. “People have always tried to innovate, but nobody’s really made a business out of it on a sustainable basis.” That’s because the big guys often put out their own versions of popular features.
Unetich isn’t able to get CallSnap into iPhones since Apple limits social media apps and developers from manipulating the incoming call screen. For now the app will be limited to Android.
The same goes for Smart Calls technology, so Unetich wants to license the firmware to Chinese carriers who can bake the technology into their devices.
Unetich said getting picked up by one of the top-tier manufacturers such as Samsung, LG or HTC is one of his main goals for 2014. Maybe then he can put a dent in the global call-management market.