France Telecom-Orange launched its Libon app for the Apple iOS family last week, with the promise of Android early next quarter. In a world full of freeumium app/services, Libon appears to raise the bar if you dig a little bit beyond the boilerplate PR text. HD voice "better than standard" has been hinted at and RCS support will be delivered in 2013, marking a functional challenge to existing over-the-top (OTT) services.
Libon is billed as an all-in-one communications app offering free HD voice calls over 3G or Wi-Fi networks, free instant messaging, customized voice mail greetings depending on contacts, speech-to-text, and a lot of enhancements to "traditional” app communications. Grouping is big in Libon, with communications summarized by contacts, with IM, calls, and voicemails grouped together for each one.
The voicemail enhancements alone provide plenty of food for thought. You can setup contacts into groups so they can receive personalized voicemail greetings and even location if part of a trusted group. Greetings may also integrate the last tweet or Facebook status to dynamically update the greeting message. If you don't want to record a greeting, type in one with Libon, choose a voice from the voice library and it's done -- no awkward or hasty record/listen/re-recording cycles to get a "just right" greeting message when you're in a hurry.
Everything is saved and synced in the Libon cloud, so contacts, conversations and messages are all archived. Lose your phone and you simply download Libon to get access back to it.
Libon isn't talking much about what HD voice codec it is using, but suggests it is something more than G.722 or AMR-WB. A PR rep said the organization/app hasn't officially announced its technology partners and the codec being used "extends beyond the 50 Hz to 7 kHz" for existing HD voice implementations. The most likely candidate is Fraunhofer's AAC "Full HD Voice" with an outside bet on Opus.
If a superwideband HD voice codec wasn't intriguing enough, support for RCS (Rich Communications Services) functionality in 2013 will be available. RCS provides a carrier app standard for interoperable chat, group chat, file transfer, and on-call content sharing and is being promoted by the GSMA under the joyn brand in a major marketing effort.
The free version of Libon available in English, French and Spanish includes free HD voice calls and text messages between users, visual voicemail with greetings customization for up to three different contacts or groups of contact, text-to-speech, voicemail transcription for Libon contact messages, and iPhone and e-mail notifications of missed voicemails.
A premium subscription version includes unlimited customized greetings, full-length transcription of all voice mail messages, unlimited storage and e-mail copies of all voicemail and a full hour of international calling every month to landlines or mobile numbers in 31 countries.
"Full HD voice," RCS and enhanced voice/text handing together in one app will provide an interesting challenge to the many OTT Skype-wanna-be services on the market. OTT services will still retain some advantage for offering lower-cost international, but the offer of a full hour with the premium service is likely to start to shaving down the choice between OTT and carrier offerings.
Edited by Brooke Neuman