One of my least favorite moments of the day comes when my iPhone rings and the number isn’t in my contact book. Is it an important call from an entrepreneur? A random PR person pitching me? Or just a telemarketer? I won’t know until I pick up.
CallApp, a startup launching today at Disrupt, wants to eliminate those awkward moments, for starters. It’s creating what CEO and co-founder Oded Volovitz calls a “universal social contact book.” It’s drawing data from social networks and other data sources to give users more context about phone calls and other communication. The data also comes from CallApp users — users can edit CallApp listings, and if they choose, they can add their contact book into the company’s general database.
So when you get a phone call, even if it’s from someone who isn’t in your contact list, you should be able to see information about them — say a photo, their most recent update on Facebook, and your most recent email exchange if you’ve corresponded with them.
Of course, if your phone is already ringing, you’ve only got a few seconds before you need to pick up, but at least you can glance at your screen and go into the call with some basic context. CallApp should be even more useful when you’re about to make a call. Then, the social network updates can give you a way to start off the conversation, or tell you when someone has traveled out of the country, so maybe now isn’t the best time to reach them. You can also attach personal reminders to CallApp contacts, share your location with them, or set up a meeting.
In some ways, the concept is pretty similar to an email plugin like Rapportive (recently acquired by LinkedIn) or Xobni. However, Volovitz says that bringing this information to the smartphone puts it in a different context. After all, when he gets a phone call, “I cannot wait until I can go to the Internet to see who is calling me. This is about giving you real-time, immediate, the most relevant information you can get, and the tools to execute on that information.”
Volovitz also says CallApp, despite the name, isn’t just about phone calls — he estimates that he only uses it for phone calls 50 percent of the time. The app also lists and connects to other ways for reaching people, like WhatsApp Messenger and Viber. The core of the experience isn’t the phone call but the contact itself, Volovitz says.
Nor is CallApp limited to personal contact listings. It includes businesses too, showing you things like Yelp reviews, Google Street View, or a menu for a restaurant where you’re thinking about making reservations.
Moving forward, Volovitz says the company will be adding features that are more about encouraging “serendipity.”
The app is available on Android phones (you can download it from Google Play here). CallApp is developing a version for iPhones too, though Volovitz estimates that it will have 80 percent of the functionality of the Android version, due to “some technical issues.”
Volovitz says the company isn’t monetizing the app (which is free) yet, but there are a number of possible business models, including affiliate fees. The company has raised $1 million in funding from undisclosed venture capital firms and angel investors.
Q: How does the iOS app differ?
A: There are more limitations than in Android, like you have to use the built-in dialer rather than any dialer you want.
Q: What are the viral hooks?
A: If you use CallApp to share information with someone, they get an SMS message linking to the content and asking them to download the app.
Q: Tell us about the technology.
A: What we do is artificial intelligence, big data. The system knows how to link the right person to the right number, for example using location to narrow the search.
Q: Why do other improved contact books fail, and why will you succeed?
A: It’s all about the execution and the ambition. If you build an app on the client side, you only get a limited amount of information about contacts on your phone, versus CallApp’s crowdsourced, cloud-based approach.