The quick rise of smartphones over the last few years definitely changed the way we use our mobile phones, but one aspect that never changed much – and maybe even took a step backwards – is the humble phone call. Sidecar, which is launching out of beta today, wants to change this and re-invent what a call should look like in the 21st century.
As Sidecar co-founder and CEO Rob Williams told me last week, a lot of innovation has happened on data, but voice calls have basically remained unchanged. They are siloed and remain separate from the rest of the smartphone experience. With Sidecar, Williams and his team want to introduce new ways to “think outside of the phone icon.”
To do so, the company has built iOS and Android VoIP applications that integrate voice calls with the ability to share location, pictures and short messages. Sidecar integrates with your contacts on your phone and lets you make free VoIP calls over WiFi to other Sidecar users anywhere in the world and to any number in the U.S. and Canada. As Williams told me, it was important to the company to create an application that would work, no matter whether your contacts use it as well.
The app’s features include live video streaming and photo sharing. Another nifty little feature is the ability to share contacts as well. The location-sharing feature, too, is worth looking at, as it doesn’t just let you compare your location with that of your contact, but also lets you decide on a place to meet up with just a few clicks. Sidecar uses the phone’s proximity sensor to automatically toggle the phone’s speakerphone mode on and off to enable you to access these extra features.
After you hang up, all your shared photos and locations can be found in the app’s contacts list.
The Sidecar team, which is largely made up out of a number of former Real Networks veterans, previously worked together on a video chat service called SocialEyes. Sidecar is backed by Ignition Ventures, The Webb Investment Network, Rob Glaser and other prominent individual investors.
In the long run, the company hops to work directly with carriers. Phone calls, after all, are still at the core of what the carriers do, Williams told me, and the company’s mission is directly aligned with the carriers’ missions as well.