Photo-sharing services like Instagram have become some of the most popular of all mobile apps, and today Twilio launched a new service that could help a much larger swathe of developers tap into that trend: picture messaging.
Alongside that, it has also given its messaging services a mini-revamp: it has dropped the price of its SMS produce by 25 percent for U.S. phone numbers. It now costs $0.0075 per message, inbound and outbound, although international messaging and short code messaging rates are not being discounted at the moment. And it’s now offering a service for concatenated SMS messages that can be strung together to be longer than 160 characters, and up to 1,600 characters.
“Text messaging is a great way to communicate, but often words are not enough,” said Jeff Lawson, CEO and co-founder of Twilio, speaking today in San Francisco when the product was announced. “Why describe a house for sale in words when you can send a picture? Why describe the damage to your car when you can show it? Seeing is believing — pictures can build trust and drive decisions. Picture messaging opens the door to a whole range of new communications opportunities.”
With a set of APIs that let developers incorporate voice and text messaging into any app or website, Twilio has already shaken up the communications industry by letting developers incorporate telephony services into apps and websites with a few lines of code. Picture messaging, which will use MMS infrastructure to let its developer customers incorporate the sending of photos and other images within apps and websites, could stir things up more.
The service is going live today in the U.S. and Canada, with the U.S. service starting out with short codes, and in Canada using phone numbers. The intention is to use these as starting points for wider rollouts to all markets where Twilio is active.
What this effectively means is that apps that today do not offer picture messaging services could theoretically start to incorporate these using Twilio’s APIs. While some applications may be in consumer apps, Twilio is also pushing the idea for enterprise services.
“Incorporating pictures into messaging takes the customer experience to another level,” said Patrick Malatack, director of product management at Twilio. “Whether you are influencing customer behavior, maintaining consistent branding in your communications, or building better processes for your business, we think that a lot of people, in a wide range of industries will be able to create incredible experiences as part of their products and workflows.”
This represents a potentially significantly lower cost for smaller apps than building out these services themselves. Twilio Picture Messaging supports JPEG, GIF and PNG and other formats, and it is pricing them at $0.02 outbound, $0.01 inbound, with a one-time activation fee of $500 for U.S. short codes. “We’re trying to match this to SMS messaging on the inbound,” noted Malatack. “We don’t want developers to think, ‘Should I turn this on or not?'”
The announcement was made at TwilioCon, the company’s annual developer conference in San Francisco, where CEO Jeff Lawson also noted that Twilio has seen a total of 1.5 billion API calls to date.
For now, there are still no plans to incorporate video services, although this is a likely step as the company continues to offer increasing parity with telephony services offered by more traditional carriers. Although Twilio negotiates with carriers to use some of their infrastructure, they also potentially take traffic away from these networks by making it easier for voice, text and now picture messaging services to exist in apps.
Ironically the MMS service is one that carriers have been offering for more than a decade. Depending on how you look at it, carriers either had a very slow start, or were ahead of their time in thinking of such a feature: most phones at the launch of MMS were nowhere near having cameras on them, and consumers were simply not interested in paying the extra fees to send the images when they did have them. Fast forward to today, and most popular picture sharing services in apps are not powered by MMS. Now, some of that extra capacity may be what is powering Twilio’s move into the space.