Finally acknowledging the inevitable, Apple (AAPL) in its latest SDK for the iPhone, and the brand new iPad, has lowered the drawbridge to VoIP applications running over 3G networks. Putting wireless-broadband voice service on the world’s most admired and emulated handset, the move is a major step toward free or low-cost calling over open networks.
For now, at least, iCall says it is “the first and only” VoIP application available on the iPhone App Store, a claim contradicted by other providers. It’s unclear when Apple will throw open the doors to other developers and services; for now, heavyweights like Skype, which has more than half-a-billion users, is sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the rules around the new SDK and access to 3G VoIP on the iPhone are clarified.
Apple’s move, which at first went largely unnoticed in the spotlight on the new iPad tablet computer, follows announcements from third parties like Google Inc. (GOOG) and startup fring that their VoIP features would be available on the iPhone. Until recently the iPhone ecosystem remained tightly controlled and largely inaccessible to many third-party VoIP providers.
Google this week released a Web app that functions like Google Voice on the iPhone, several months after Apple and AT&T (T) effectively banned the popular voice, call management and text message service from the device. (AT&T announced last fall that it would begin enabling VoIP services over its 3G network, but the iPhone remained off-limits till yesterday.)
Mobile application provider fring, meanwhile, said it now offers a full suite of video and voice services via 3G wireless broadband for the iPhone. fring claimed to be the first developer to offer such 3G options for the popular handset from Apple – that assertion has since been dropped from the fring Web site. Previously, users of mobile communications and social networking hubs, like fring, could only access such services via Wi-Fi.
iCall could receive a sizable boost from its public association with the iPhone, Apple has sold nearly 43 million of the touch-screen smartphones since launching the device in 2007. The most recent version, the iPhone 3GS, was introduced in June 2009.