Aliph, the maker of the Jawbone series of Bluetooth headsets, announced a new iPhone app recently at D: Dive Into Mobile, and it's called Thoughts. A sort of sophisticated voice messaging platform, Thoughts is designed to bridge the disconnect between text messaging and voice communication.
The power of asynchronous communication methods like texting, instant messaging, e-mail, and Facebook posts is that the messages can be sent and received at much different times, while phone calls typically demand more immediate attention. However, Aliph says that text-based communication often misses the emotion and nuance that the voice offers, which might lead to misunderstanding or simply missing the point of a conversation. Sure there's voice mail, but you still risk the recipient picking up the phone, perhaps at an inopportune time. Also, you usually have to wait a few minutes for the ringing and the "leave a message" mantra before you can leave a voice mail message.
Voice messaging isn't a new concept of course--most phones support that these days--but few of them have put as much thought behind voice messaging as Aliph did with the Thoughts app. We had a hands-on demonstration of it yesterday, and we think it's pretty cool from the few minutes we played around with it.
It integrates with the phone's contacts list, and if you send a Thoughts message to someone who doesn't have the app, they'll receive either an e-mail or a text message with a link to a Jawbone Web page where they can play the audio message. However, you can only reply to the message if you have the Thoughts app installed. As for whether the app will be available on other platforms like BlackBerry or Android, Aliph has said it's working on it, but it has no real availability dates yet.
You can also send out messages to groups of people, and the members of the group can reply-all to the group too if they want. This sounds like it does have the potential to get mildly spammy, so we would certainly like an opt-out feature if there isn't one. We like that the back-and-forth messages are nicely grouped into threaded conversations. If you're just not in an environment where you can listen to a message, Thoughts also has a handy voice-to-text transcription feature that is done via a partnership with Yap. You only get a few Yap transcription credits with the app--after a certain limit, transcriptions do cost a small fee (We're looking into how much and will update this post with the prices).
During our demonstration with the app, we did notice that it's reliant on an Internet connection to send and receive Thoughts messages. This tells us that using Thoughts won't tap into your monthly minutes, and you don't have to use up your text message allotment either if everyone in your list has the app.
As the Thoughts app is free and is usable with or without a headset, I asked Aliph if there were any benefits Jawbone users would have with the app. The answer is yes--if you have the Aliph Jawbone Icon Bluetooth headset, you can configure the Thoughts app as a MyTalk Dial App. This lets you configure the headset so that it automatically saves a Thought message into a drafts folder when you press the Icon's button, for example. Aliph also said that the app is just easier to use when wearing a headset (any headset, not only Aliph's) because you can easily go from Thought to Thought without having to lift the phone to your ear repeatedly. So yes, even though the app is free, Aliph sees the Thoughts app as adding more value to the idea of Bluetooth headsets, which is obviously in its interest.
Perhaps my favorite part of the app is Aliph's fun promo video for it. Note that the joke could come across very differently if it was just text versus voice.