Wire, the communications app backed by Skype co-founder Janus Friis which launched late last year, is now expanding its service to the web with the launch of Wire for Web. Envisioned as a modern-day take on Skype, had it been built today, the new addition to Wire will allow users on Chrome, Firefox and Opera web browsers to both make and receive calls, while IE and Safari users will only be able to chat at this time.
In addition to making calls and chatting, Wire users on the web will be able to create and leave group conversations, as well as block users.
The new app looks much like Wire’s current lineup of apps for OS X, iOS and Android. That is, it features the same, minimalist design where some tools only appear when needed. For example, the options to add media or ping a person in a chat don’t show up until your cursor moves over to that side of the screen. Also like mobile apps, Wire offers push notifications where supported.
Wire was designed with the goal of creating a communications platform that leverages newer technologies than those used by older services like Skype, which is now more than a decade old. So most of the new features are under-the-hood improvements in areas like media compression, audio technology, file delivery and more.
The startup, based in Zug, Switzerland, is backed by a team whose backgrounds include time spent at Apple, Skype, Nokia and Microsoft. In addition, co-founder and CEO Jonathan Christensen has been in the communications space for 15 years, having previously worked on MSN Messenger and Lync at Microsoft, and then later co-founded audio-processing software company Camino Networks, which was acquired by Skype.
Company co-founder and CTO Alan Duric today says a focus on the web as a platform for communications had been important to Wire’s team for some time. In fact, the first prototype of Wire’s desktop app had been built using HTML5, he notes. Duric also explains that because there had been no real-time audio standard in HTML, many browser-based calling solutions in the past have required plug-ins or Flash to operate.
That has changed in recent years with the advancements in the space spearheaded by Google, which has been working with the World Wide Web Consortium and the Internet Engineering Task Force. In 2011, they formed the Web Real-Time Communications Working Group and they’ve since acquired and made available open source assets for real-time audio from Global IP Sound.
Wire’s software and its new Wire for Web application is based on WebRTC, which means it should interoperate with any browser that supports the standard.
The company is declining to share user numbers, but says during its launch, it was seeing 20 registrations per second and it has now been downloaded in every country worldwide. Google Play gives some insight into the app’s size, though, indicating that it has between 100,000 and 500,000 downloads to date. However, the app is not currently well-ranked on the app stores – on iOS it’s No. 1,237 in the “Social Networking” category, and it’s unranked (below No. 1,500) on Google Play. It’s also No. 47 on the Mac App Store.
These numbers indicate that Wire still has a way to go to have any hope of toppling the major players in the mobile communications space, including not only Skype, but also apps like Viber, Tango, WhatsApp, which just rolled out support for calls, and Facebook Messenger, which now offers video calling.
Wire’s web app is currently free to use at app.wire.com.