Lumicall: giving you choice when you dial

One of the distinguishing features of Lumicall, the free and open SIP/VoIP app for Android, is the unique dialing experience.

In fact, even regular softphones for the desktop/laptop don't currently offer the same power when you want to make a call.

In my previous blog, I looked at the ENUM technology that underpins part of this compelling new user experience. Here we can step back and look at the bigger picture.

Choice is important, sneak preview of Sunday's talk at FOSDEM

The fundamental reason for the dialing popup is to give the user choice. Choice is important.

With that in mind, one of the key revelations that I will discuss during my talk about Lumicall this Sunday at FOSDEM is that I would like to give users the opportunity to use the Lumicall dialer with other VoIP apps, including Jitsi for Android and CSipSimple. To facilitate this, I hope to separate the dialing logic from the app and make it available as a standalone app or library module that can be used in any free communications software.

Users expect convenience, Lumicall tries to deliver

Have you noticed how many people will pick up their mobile phone to make a call even when they have a regular phone within reach?

Have you found yourself calling your friends' mobile numbers even though you have their home and office numbers in your address book too?

These mobile network calls are often at least ten times more expensive than landline calls and by definition they are infinitely more expensive than free calls made over the Internet. So why do people behave this way?

The answer is simple: convenience. The caller does not want to make multiple efforts to dial, nor does he want to lose one or two minutes speaking to a secretary, colleague or spouse of the person he is trying to call. Dialing from the address book in his own mobile phone and calling the mobile number of the person he wants to speak with is the shortest path to success. It is efficient, it is compelling and it is what users expect.

Free software products wanting to make an impact need to carefully align themselves with these user expectations and that is exactly what Lumicall tries to do.

Choose your own adventure: dial the digits, use the address book or surf your call history

Any of these everyday dialing practices triggers the Lumicall dialer.

In this example, the user is trying to call Bob from the address book:

While the user may have simply pressed the "call" button, Lumicall alerts them to several ways that they may proceed:

  • The first choice is a SIP address found in the ENUM directory, sip:+4456190455234@sip5060.net. Lumicall will take all the phone numbers associated with Bob in the address book and report any ENUM results associated with them. Here, just a single ENUM result is display.
  • The second choice is a SIP address constructed from Bob's email address. Lumicall found the email address in the address book entry and discovered that Bob's domain, lumicall.org, has a NAPTR record for SIP. Based on this discovery, Lumicall feels there is a good probability the email address is also a SIP address. If multiple email addresses are in the address book, they will all be checked for NAPTR.
  • (Not shown in the picture) if Lumicall has been configured to use a SIP-to-PSTN gateway account, it will display the option to call Bob's number through the gateway in blue
  • Finally, at the bottom of the list, Lumicall offers the option to call Bob's number in the normal manner, through the GSM network. This option is colour-coded in red to emphasize that it is usually the most expensive.

The tip of the iceberg

This experience is a big improvement over the experience of the old rotary dial but it could also be taken even further.

People don't always respond to their SIP address, especially if they live in a country where mobile data is not yet the norm.

These are areas where Lumicall could be improved. For example, we could use SIP presence to make sure that Bob really is online before displaying the SIP option. This would reduce frustration and boost confidence in SIP.

We could even go beyond that: Bob could use the SIP presence mechanism to advertise whether or not he is on a slow mobile data network or a fast network like 4G or wifi. You may choose to defer your call to Bob until he enters wifi coverage where the call quality is likely to be better and maybe video will be possible.

This latter opportunity also has privacy implications: Bob may only choose to share that live insight into his network coverage with contacts he trusts.

Try it at FOSDEM

I will spend some time around the real-time lounge at FOSDEM and would be delighted to get feedback from users who are trying Lumicall, FreePhoneBox.net, JSCommunicator, DruCall or the new Debian SIP service.

Comments

Dialing from the address book in his own mobile phone and calling the mobile number of the person he wants to speak with is the shortest path to success. It is efficient, it is compelling and it is what users expect.

From looking at the screenshot, lumicall seems to take away this convinience: after choosing which number to dial ("Call mobile"), it requires a further confirmation where the user has to choose again(!) which number to dial. The options offered are quite long with one much larger than the others (3 lines vs 1). They also don't have friendly names (like the "mobile" in "Call mobile").