Oh dear. On Tuesday, software giant Ray Ozzie launched Talko, an app that promises to “save the telephone call”—and basically copies Apple’s iOS 8 Messages feature in the process.
On the surface, Talko is a wonderful app. Think of it as Slack or HipChat or an AOL chat room, with group texting, the ability to record voice, share location, and even photos. Talko’s team wrapped it all up within Apple’s pristine iOS 8 design motif, sprinkled a bit of fairy dust on it, and unveiled it with broad smiles to a gullible tech press.
Because that’s what you do when you have a Really Big Deal—especially a company backed by such names as Marc Andreessen or Greylock Capital. You put legendary software giant Ray Ozzie out in front of The New York Times, USA Today, The Verge, the Associated Press, and even Steven Levy’s new tech site at Medium—the list goes on and on. And although everyone who ever used it despised Ozzie’s first product, Lotus Notes, Ozzie still commands respect. And he’s a nice guy, to boot.
But the new platform copies iOS 8’s Messages app. I mean, look at it. Talko allows for group messaging, shared photos, recording short snippets of audio commentary. So does the new Messages app. With Talko, you can share your location—but, yep, Messages does that too.
So what does Talko offer that Messages does not? Live calling.
“In Talko, a call can start with a ring and be fully live,” Matt Pope, a Talko co-founder, said in an email to PCWorld. “It can then segue to async/not-live after that. Similarly, it can start async/not-live and then seamlessly segue to full-duplex live if and when people swarm in via notifications - this happens all the time in Talko calls.”
So in other words, Talko simply does a better job of switching back and forth between live calls and text messages, according to Pope.
“The way we support showing while you’re talking is also unique,” Pope added. “Unlike any messaging app, Talko calls are not a set of serial posts. You can show and share what you’re talking about, as you’re talking—so the audio and visual are forever correlated.”
And if you’d like, you can tag or bookmark a particular conversation to find it again. But—and here’s where Talko is going to make money—conversation beyond a certain period will be deleted, unless a monthly fee is paid to archive them forever. (Talko conversations can also be manually deleted by any participant.)
If you want thousands of words describing how Talko was developed, Levy’s piece at Medium explains how wonderful Talko will be, with barely a hint of critical thinking. Is there a need to archive years of conversations between friends and colleagues? Maybe, if you’d like the lawyer that’s filing a patent-infringement suit against your company to dig through all of your team’s correspondence. What about listening to multiple voice recordings to find the one piece of information you have to have? Or is it easier to ask a colleague to catch you up on the information you need to know?
It may be that Talko finds a niche alongside HipChat, Slack, and other collaboration tools, and that users simply don’t want to jump on a group Skype call when necessary. But put what Talko promises—to “reinvent the call,” according to Ozzie—against what’s already out there, including a native app on the only platform Talko supports, iOS. Who’s not going to be skeptical?