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This article was published on September 18, 2013

Twilio adds picture messaging to its API mix, starting with developers in US and Canada

Twilio adds picture messaging to its API mix, starting with developers in US and Canada
Ken Yeung
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Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a reporter for The Next Web based in San Francisco, CA. He carries around a big camera & likes to write about tech, startup Ken Yeung is a reporter for The Next Web based in San Francisco, CA. He carries around a big camera & likes to write about tech, startups, parties, and interesting people. Follow him on Twitter, on Facebook, and Google+.

Twilio is embarking on a quest to take over not only the spoken and written word in telephony, but also the visual part as well. Today at the company’s developer and customer conference, it was announced that developers can now add this new feature to their services and enable their customers to send picture messages in the US via short code and Canada with a 10-digit phone number. In addition, recognizing that its business is good, Twilio is cutting the price of its text messaging service by 25 percent for US phone numbers.

For nearly five years, Twilio has been recognized as a service centered around voice and text messaging. However, recognizing that human beings are visual creatures, the company decided to move into photos. It’s not looking to create the next competitor to Skype, but give the tools developers need to offer better means of communication.

But let’s be clear, Twilio isn’t a consumer application that anyone can download — it’s a platform that developers and companies can use to bring telephone-like services in from the cloud. It’s not the only one in the marketplace either, as it competes against the likes of Tropo, Freespee, 2600hz, and others.

The picture messaging revolution

It’s important to note that this is only for photos, not videos — product manager Patrick Malatack tells us that it might be available in the future, but didn’t offer any specifics.

With photo messaging, Twilio hopes that not only will independent developers leverage it for their apps and services, but also that large enterprises and retailers begin to use it to help be more productive. One example of this feature in work is with home improvement store Home Depot — through RedBeacon, customers can be connected with contractors and handymen. Through the use of Twilio’s photo messaging product, once a job has been completed, customers can photograph the work and instantly transmit the image to the company where it is inserted onto a “wall” to highlight the good work that contractor did.

Available only in the US and Canada, Twilio’s photo messaging product can be inserted into any app or service with just a few lines of code. It supports a variety of file types, including JPEG, GIF, and PNG. Developers will find that the pricing will be $0.02 outbound and $0.01 inbound, with a one-time activation fee of $500 for US short code.

Naturally, Twilio cannot be thinking about just developers anymore, especially when it’s potentially thinking about a public offering. The company has made several forays into the enterprise world, including adding support for Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) technology that brings in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) into businesses.

How will large-scale companies use picture messaging? Perhaps in similar ways as the Home Depot or perhaps finding ways to incorporate it into their customer service software, such as Zendesk, so that consumers can submit photos of product issues instead of trying to describe the problem.

Malatack says that whatever the desires of the enterprise, Twilio is all about giving its customer companies the power of the picture and the reach of the carrier network.

Cheaper to send text messages now

Aside from the addition of picture messaging, Twilio is also reducing the cost of sending and receiving voice and text messages. Developers will pay just a fraction of the $0.03 it previously cost — now it’s only $0.0075 for each message inbound and outbound. However, do note that this reduction only applies to domestic services, that is within the US. Any international usage or messaging through short codes will still cost $0.03 each way.

Twilio’s price reduction is typical of the success startups tend to achieve. As more funds are received or as it sees its service grow in usage, companies sometimes will make it more affordable for developers to use its service. And Twilio certainly received an influx of capital recently — in fact a $70 million Series D round of funding.

But while we’re on the subject of cheaper text messaging, Twilio is also making it possible to send longer content, up to 1,600 characters long. The company is adding concatenation into its offering that will take an entire message, break it into different chunks of 160 characters, annotate them in the back-end, and pass them on to the carriers who will reassemble them in order on the other side. Twilio says that this is a shift in industry norms, which currently supports only 160 characters.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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