CounterPath launches first ‘universal’ softphone for the iPad

A little over ten months ago, Enterprise published an article about work-arounds that let you make VoIP calls from your iPad. At the time, it was a bit of a hack.

This week, however, Vancouver, BC-based CounterPath Corp. announced a version of its immensely successful Bria softphone specifically designed for the iPad—Bria iPad Edition 1.0—that supports VoIP calls via Wi-Fi or 3G/4G cellular connections.

The thinking behind this move was strategic. “We see a huge potential movement taking shape now, with enterprises looking to the tablets as an augmentation or auxiliary device to their desktop and the mobile phones they have today,” commented CounterPath’s senior vice president of marketing and products, Todd Carothers in a recent interview. “We’re seeing more requirements for users to be able to take their phone calls on a platform that can also help with presentations, help with e-mail and other applications that they use.”

Stir in the fact that tablets are inherently portable—mobile—and you’ve got a picture of a trend that may well reshape the enterprise communications landscape.

Can a tablet PC with the right software replace the desk phone? CounterPath isn’t just talking the talk, it’s walking the walk as well: “Here in our Chicago office, we have ripped out all our corded phones and all our conference room phones,” Carothers told VoIPplanet. “So, now, when we have a conference call, whoever is running the meeting brings their iPad and puts it in the middle of the table and we have a conference call for the meeting.”

Docks on the employees desks put the iPads pretty much right where the desk phones used to be—but when they leave their desks, the iPads go with them.

Lest CounterPath seem to be taking credit for the idea of putting tablets to work as communications tools, Carothers pointed out that other developers and vendors of communications systems—notably Avaya, with its Flare tablet, and Cisco with its Cius—have been doing this for some time.

“They’re definitely thinking about the tablet approach,” he said, “but they’re doing it in their own unique way—which either means running their own OS or having applications that are essentially closed, coupled with their own equipment—their own PBXs, their own telephones.”

By contrast, CounterPath sees Bria iPad Edition the “universal endpoint” for what is, at least for now, the most popular tablet PC. It is designed (like all of CounterPath’s softphones) around the open, standards-based session initiation protocol (SIP).

“We’re coming at this as something you can use across any platform, across any organization,” Carothers said. “You have to have uniform experiences across all the devices, not just a group of users on one specific device type.”

This touches on another aspect of the “universality” of the Bria solution: It is, in fact, a family of solutions—available on Windows and Macintosh PCs, available in versions that maximize the functionality of BroadSoft and Asterisk PBXs, and available for both iOS and Android phones.

The software, deployed on multiple hardware platforms, functions in concert. If, for example, you are sitting at your desk with your iPad in its dock, you have your Bria client running on your PC, and your Android phone is in your pocket, a call incoming from the PBX will ring all three. When you answer one, the server understands the call has been answered and stops ringing the other Bria clients.

Moreover, “We share a common set of services,” Carothers added. Which is to say, all the clients pretty much do the same things—in the same way. (Actually Bria iPad Edition is in some respects an exception to this in its initial release: It lacks the video, SMS, and instant messaging capabilities of the other clients, but these will be added before the year is up.)

“There’s nothing that we do that’s proprietary, that will only work with one client in one environment versus the other,” Carothers said, summing up.

Bria iPad Edition is available now from the iTunes App Store (or direct from CounterPath) for $14.99. An optional G.729 codec is available from either source for $8.99.

In addition to the iPad Edition upgrade, mentioned above, CounterPath plans to launch an edition for Android 3.0—another true tablet client—toward the end of 2011 or early in 2012.

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