I recently tested the Ooma IP-based home telephone service, and was immediately intrigued with the Memo feature as I set up my voicemail. This Ooma feature essentially lets you record messages for yourself or others in the house, which are delivered as voicemail messages. Sure, it seems like a feature made for Louis from Suits, but it also hints at the services Ooma envisions as enhancements to its core product.
It seems every company must tack on services to their central products in order to keep up with consumer demand. Even retailers must provision apps for alerts, coupons and loyalty programs. Now our home telephones must also meet the future head-on, laced with capabilities that would never happen without the Internet and web browser.
With Ooma you can manage voice messages, calls and contacts from the web, providing more features at lower costs than the home phones we grew up with. Indeed, merely connecting a device, even the most staple machines in our homes, presents the opportunity to add services (and fees) to said device. For Ooma, the home phone is just the beginning.
“The main reasons people buy Ooma are for cost savings, quality calls, and it’s centered around the basic value proposition,” explains Dennis Peng, VP of Product Management at Ooma. “We actually have pretty good uptake for our premier product. People, after trying the service, decide to keep it.”
Smart phone, Trojan horse
Something of a Trojan Horse, Ooma’s basic IP home phone is designed for the average consumer, but can expand to encompass multiple lines, amongst other things. Premium features will cost you an extra few dollars a month, but Ooma home phone fans may also become Ooma office phone fans, layering more and more services as needs grow.
With a powerful router as its hub, Ooma can also expand beyond basic phone services, into the smart home as well. “We’re looking at the home automation space in a big way,” Peng tells me. “One of the reasons, as you mentioned, is that at our core we’re kind of a service delivery platform.”
“We have a really powerful CT device hub, a dual core processor, memory, etc.,” he goes on. “Besides delivering voice, we could deliver other types of services as well. One thing we’re looking at is home automation. Our Dect technology is embedded in our service – Dect has been evolving over the years, it’s no longer a cornerstone technology. You can send IP data over it. It’s recently been extended to control thousands of devices in the home. We’re looking at leveraging the Dect wireless tech built into every product.”
Tapping new services markets
Ooma, like many other companies right now, is determining the best way to angle for the smart home. According to a recent Forrester study, the most compelling market opportunities begin with home security, lighting and peace of mind services, to do things like monitor children and the elderly. It’s the latter market that Ooma sees as a best fit for its current lineup, as Peng details.
“The first product that hints at our strategy here is our safety phone, launched at CES this year,” Peng boasts. “The two-way speakerphone can be worn on your body or around your neck, and targets the ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up’ market, where people want to live independently but still have physical limitations. This type of product is unique in that it’s a two-way speaker. Most products are just a way to activate a speaker that’s mounted somewhere in your home. Ours is a two-way speaker that’s always with you. It can be used to answer calls, call for help and to call your children if you need assistance.”
Designing the user experience
When considering the home automation market, a business must also determine its position as a technology integrator, given the growing number of wireless protocols being applied to the smart home, and quickening pace of connected device releases. All of these networking advances must be managed through software on a browser of sorts, adding yet another challenge to Ooma’s planned expansion into smart home services. Keeping much of the work in-house means Ooma retains control over its technology in an effort to ensure a simplified user experience.
“We’re pretty unique in the industry in the sense that we do make all the hardware and software that runs our service,” says Peng. “Vonage and AT&T – they’re often taking software applications and hardware from third parties. They’re integrators of technology and that’s why we call them service providers. They don’t usually innovate the software and apps their systems run on.”
“We wanted to create a different experience for the user, and didn’t feel we could do that being integrators of others’ technology,” Peng goes on. “We wanted to control every level of the user experience. We write all our own backend, servers that are interfacing to apps — everything about that, we control. That allows us to create new and differentiated features for the customers.”
One example is Ooma’s Springing feature, which is very simple in concept. Springing lets you listen to voicemails as they’re being recorded by a caller. It’s a capability that was lost with the advent of digital voicemail, but springing empowers today’s tech advancements with the old-school experience of “screening” calls.
“We’re able to modify our voicemail systems to stream in the cloud and live in the device – it has the simplicity of an answering machine, but it’s a cloud-based voicemail system so you can have it transcribed and sent to email … that mentality permeates our culture and allows us to create really simple ideas that are really useful,” Peng concludes.