Meet ooVoo: The Israeli startup picking fights with Microsoft and Google
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Photo Credit: PR, Screenshot

The Israeli video calling service managed to establish itself in the United States and Great Britain. So how come it feels like almost no one’s heard of them?

Photo Credit: PR, Screenshot

Photo Credit: PR, Screenshot

If you want to have a video conversation with a friend in the United States, or an important client currently residing in Japan, you’re probably aware of any number of popular services that can help you out in that respect. We’re guessing that ooVoo is not on your list.

But without drawing too much attention to themselves, the Israeli startup has managed to establish itself in several markets around the world and has become synonymous with video calling for these regions. Let’s get to know Israel gives a decent fight Microsoft and even Google.

Skype, Google hangouts, ooVoo

In one sentence, ooVoo allows users to make 1 on 1 or conference video calls for free. It supports a large number of platforms, mobile and desktop, and along with video calls allows users to conduct voice calls and send text and video messages .

Facing the ooVoo team are two primary brand name competitors,: Microsoft’s Skype and Google Hangouts. So what’s the added value offered by ooVoo over these giants and why would anyone opt to use them?

The Company believes that it holds a significant advantage over their competitors in the quality of their calls. Although one would expect any company to tout their own quality as an advantage but ooVoo believes they’ll be able to prove their claim to anyone who tests out their service.

ooVoo has launched in 2007, four years after Skype, and focused on providing a solution for video calls for PC users in the business sector. One year later in 2008 the company launched a number of options, including voice and the ability to record video messages in advance, along with the launch of as Mac version. Skype didn’t have their Mac version until  2013.

Cut to present day, after a variety of upgrades to support mobile users from around the world, the Israeli startup has a number of cards up its sleeve, such as support for free group video calls of up to 12 people, support for Android, iOS, Mac and PC. The company says it plans to launch a version tailored to users of Windows Phone in the near future with the ultimate goal being to allow users to chat on any platform regardless of device, operating system or even location – as long as they have an Internet connection, of course.


Global popularity

CEO Robert Jackman is excited about ooVoo’s global prospects: “Our app or apps in general, are growing in different regions and cultures. I believe this is a function consisting of a wide range of variables that cause the application to be successful or popular. Our main user base is in the United States and Britain.”

Although video conferencing has been around for several years it seems that it only recently started to catch on. Jackman believes that having voice, email, text messages and pictures, came into vogue thanks to Instagram, Snapchat and even Facebook. Now the video is starting to take center stage and it’s also the element most difficult to provide for users that require it.

To enable communication between devices using video, the system needs a smartphone device with plenty of processing power, along with the appropriate bandwidth from carriers. “In some markets,” says Jackman, “especially in emerging markets, there is not enough bandwidth or processing power to offer video call services. “For example,” Jackman continues, “only 20 percent of U.S. smartphone owners have used them to make a video call. This is one of the world’s most developed mobile markets right up there with Asia and South Korea.”

The fact that the company could not be based in Asia is not surprising, since users in Asia have domestic apps like WeChat, which in October 2013 estimated 600 million users.

Natural medium of communication

The concept behind ooVoo is to allow users to communicate in the most basic and natural way: by talking face to face, even if two users are on opposite corners of the world. Jackman believes that there is something very basic in face to face conversation. You can see the facial expressions of the person standing in front of you. See how they’re acting and reacting during the conversation. He said ooVoo is a tool that facilitates this most natural conversation medium.

Since the company sees video calls as something that is still in its beginning stages of development, ooVoo wants to listen to users and learn from them. See how they choose to utilize the features they’re offered. Jackman explains that the more users they have, the more they learn about what users need and want. “Everyone now has a good idea, but we have 100 million users who help test it,” notes Jackman.

The company’s user base ranges between ages 13 to 25, with over one billion video minutes per month logged through the app. Given those numbers it would appear the company’s doing something right.

According to company data, 65 percent of its users are teenagers under the age of 25, most being women comprising 53 percent compared to 47 percent men. The most popular countries by usage are the United States and the United Kingdom. The company is now beginning to move out of these markets to see growth in other countries around the world.

Robert Jackman

Robert Jackman

Not afraid of the competition

Rajesh Midha is the company’s Chief Product Officer. He explains that app store rankings clearly show users are not satisfied with Skype, since its rating sits on average in the two star range. According to him, this score is because Skype is unable to provide the basic requirement of a quality video call between users.

Midha is up to date with user controls and says that every day he would come in and read not only the reviews on ooVoo itself, but also the reviews on the competition. Midha explains that, “Whereas on desktops Skype was leading, it could not make the transition to the mobile world successfully.”

Midha believe that the main reason why users continue to “settle”  for the standard services that do not satisfy their needs is simply because they don’t know about the existing alternatives. He’s confident that once ooVoo penetrates the consciousness of those users, they will prefer it over its competitors.

What about Instagram, Vine, Snapchat and other platforms beginning to focus on video? The Israeli company is not at all afraid of them. On the contrary, after users understand how they want to start communicating with their networks more directly ooVoo believes they’ll start to turn toward their service.

Jackman adds that there is a lot of room for growth in the field of video and many applications are getting into the game but each one focuses on a different aspect or usage style. Midha says that, “unlike Skype and the like, designed on the basis of Peer-to-Peer voice calls and later looked to add video, ooVoo was always about video from day one and this is its major advantage.”

Rajesh fades

Rajesh Midha

Taking care of herself

One of the elements that might be considered problematic for many users is an advertising model that exists in the product. As part of this model, the Company presents advertisements at the bottom of the app’s main screens. Although they try and be considerate with their display strategy this ad/revenue model may cause some users to raise an eyebrow.

To try to make the model a little more friendly to users the company operates its own private ad network. So ooVoo can control the content presented to their users and make sure the ads are actually relevant. Since the company introduced the model in late 2013 it has not experienced a decline in active users. In fact, ooVoo tells us you can even see an increase in the number of users who have joined and the team believes that this is due to the sincerity and willingness of the company to explain why it needs to display advertisements in order to exist.

The company also offers an alternative ad-free yearlong membership for a nominal cost.

What can we expect for the future?

Over the past six months the company has worked to improve the new version, ooVoo 2.0, which launched in September 2013. Between upgrades the company also introduced Super Clear technology, which enables video calls even when the user is in motion or when experiencing Packet Loss. The company also worked on the development of its SDK, which allows developers to integrate ooVoo’s video capabilities into their applications, for a fee of course.

Regarding the future of the company, Jackman, while not willing to reveal too much, ensures that primary goal of the company – to provide the highest quality face-to-face communication via mobile – will remain the same.

Thanks to advances in technology with regard to processing power, surfing is much faster. Additionally, considering the fact that almost every user has a mobile device in their pocket or bag, it’s only a matter of time before video communication will become one of the main trends of telecom in the near future, and ooVoo is positioned to be right at the center of it.

“We’re building a good business, good for customers and good for companies, and good things will come out of that,” Jackman concludes, “The strategy is to continue the mission and the rest will come as a result.”

So how good is ooVoo?

In order to put the company’s claims to the test we downloaded the app and played around with it some. Although application offers quality video calls that feel a little smoother than the competition, the fact that we had to ask our friends, customers and the rest to download it to communicate, was most problematic.

Users have to deal with a huge amount of media including social networking, chat applications, calling apps and the like. Thus, the addition of another application to the pool may cause most users to give up in advance, no matter what features or benefits it will offer.

Does ooVoo have a chance to win the Skype and Hangouts video call wars in terms of market share dominance? Thanks to its SDKand its appeal to independent developers it might have a chance. Until that really kicks off though, it’s likely that users will prefer to use the products they’re more familiar with, even if they’re not satisfied with them 100 percent.

Download ooVoo

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Henn Idan

About Henn Idan

Lover of gadgets, apps and technology in general. Somehow among her many activities, which include, destroying cellular devices for the sake of science and an obsessive preoccupation with social networking, Idann finds time to write an article or two for Geektime on new applications, promising startups and product reviews for pretty much every new gadget that has ever hit the market – ever.

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