O2 releases TU Me app for free calls, texts
Telefonica's TU app inbox
Telefónica Digital, a division of the company that operates as O2 in the UK, has released a free iPhone app that lets users make calls and send text messages for free.
The app, named TU Me, provides what is known in the industry as an 'over-the-top' (OTT) service, in that it operates purely over data and is not tied to any other of the operator's voice or text services. Anyone can download and use the app, which came out on Wednesday, regardless of which operator they are with.
In addition to its VoIP and text functionality, TU Me allows users to leave voice messages and share photos and GPS-derived location information. The service can run over a cellular data network or Wi-Fi, and an Android version will be released soon.
The operator industry has for years been seeing a general decline in voice revenues, partly because customers are turning to OTT alternatives that work for free or at low cost.
"We've seen the growing popularity of communications apps on smartphones, but we believe we've gone one better with TU Me using our knowledge and insights of how people use their devices," Telefónica Digital's chief commercial officer Stephen Shurrock said in a statement.
Indeed, TU Me is a
direct response to OTT services such as Viber, Skype and WhatsApp,
which provide similar functionality, Telefónica said.
"We're trying to compete against those services. We'd rather keep the customer relationship," a Telefónica spokesman told ZDNet UK. He added that the app's operator agnosticism means Telefónica might also gain "new customer relationships" through its use.
The service stores all user data in the cloud, so texts and other backed-up data can be restored to a separate device if the user loses their phone.
Telefonica's TU app call
Telefónica developed TU Me in-house, using technology and expertise gained from its 2009 acquisition of Jajah, a VoIP firm. According to the company, the app's development was also informed by internal trials O2 ran last year with a service called O2 Connect.
"This is the first product you're seeing on the back of some of those learnings," Telefónica's spokesman said.
TU Me is the first product that Telefónica has launched worldwide in one go.
Although the app is free to use and will remain so, the operator said that, "over the coming months, it will also use the TU brand to launch a number of enhanced communications services which its O2, Movistar and Vivo businesses will make available to customers as part of their bundles".
Telefónica's TU app text
Telefónica is not the first operator to release an OTT communications app — T-Mobile USA launched the Bobsled VoIP app for smartphones last October — but TU Me is the most comprehensive package yet to come from a cellular carrier.
The app draws its contacts from the user's phone address book. Telefónica's spokesman said there are no plans as yet to link it to social networks such as Facebook, but pointed out that users could invite their address book contacts to also download the app.
Disruptive Analysis's Dean Bubley, who has long been advising operators to create their own OTT services, reacted favourably to the app's release.
"I definitely like the OTT aspect and the potential virality," Bubley told ZDNet UK in an email. "It looks 'designed' as much as 'engineered', which is a good thing."
However, the analyst expressed concern about the way in which the app bundles many communication types.
"I'm less certain about the idea of putting all comms in a single app," he said. "I think there's value in fragmentation into multiple services, as it allow individuals to better segregate their personal comms 'universe' much better."