Let's talk phones
In the past decade, mobile phones have become much smarter, more intuitive, more useful and well, fun to use.
But the plain old desk phone is still trapped in some kind of time-warp, with a puzzling series of buttons, ugly plastic shells, and tiny, low resolution displays that don’t tell you much at all. While most people ‘learn’ a smartphone in minutes, you still need to wade through a manual to get any kind of handle on the old desk phones.
The vtalk phone
We thought we could do better. Much better. So, we started working with some brilliant people to bring our idea to life – the vtalk phone.
Our inspiration was to take the best of smartphone technology and bring that to a device that could sit on your desk, in your kitchen, or anywhere you choose to work – just plug it in without any additional hardware, and you’re good to go.
We aimed to make the vtalk phone something that looked great, worked intuitively, and was really easy to use.
No crappy plastic, no big buttons – we’re offering a big bright screen, and multi-touch interfaces. Our phone will switch effortlessly between High Definition audio voice calls and HD video calls, and it’ll be capable of hosting multi-party video conferencing in high definition too. Best of all, we plan to have it connect to the calendaring and contact databases people already use like Google Calendar, Exchange and Linkedin so all your contacts and appointments are always up to date.
Next, we started working with some of the best people we could find to help us make the vtalk phone a reality.
Firstly vtalk teamed up with the amazing industrial design studio that is MNML in Chicago, the rockstar team responsible for many beautiful products. You may remember them from the TikTok + Lunatik project that many credit with “kickstarting Kickstarter” in 2010.
Together we designed an amazing looking product, that feels great in the hand and is at home on any desk.
We've been working alongside Kontron, a global leader in embedded hardware, headquartered in Germany and listed on the German stock exchange. Together we're building the hardware that performs flawlessly with our software and cloud infrastructure. Utilising Kontron's internal testing facilities we'll have the vtalk phone certified for use worldwide.
The hardware is currently in an alpha state. We are able to make and receive phone calls via the command line connected to our development board. The hardware is currently running on Android 4.2 and is running our SIP stack that has been in use by customers since 2008 on both our existing hardware and cloud platforms as well as on iOS. Our SIP stack is highly portable and is running extremely well on the Tegra platform.
For prototyping we have a handset connected to our wireless audio controller which connects back to the Tegra hardware via a 2.4Ghz Wireless audio link that has a range of 120 metres (400ft), and with some tweaks to the current PCB antenna design may be able to exceed these distances.
We are testing a number of different display options at present, and looking at various connectivity options. For mass production MIPI is the most cost effective and what companies like Apple and Amazon use for their display connectivity. In order to utilise these displays we built a MIPI board that allows us to connect and control them.
As our handset itself is going to be completely touch based, there is currently no LCD on the market that fits this rectangular shape. Instead of building our own LCD panel, we have opted for two 2.4" displays that are mounted together, with one display rotated 180 degrees to avoid unnecessary gaps in the field of view. Over the top of these displays will be a piece of glass, slightly tinted and with our own multi-touch controller.
Driving the displays is a 32-bit micro controller with our own custom software. We have been working hard to keep the response time of the screen to an absolute minimum. Using some special software compression techniques we have developed we are currently seeing a response time of sub 50ms.
What's the point of having great hardware if you don't have the software to back it up with? We really want the experience of the vtalk phone to be so great that you'll just want to use it all the time. We've been working on the user experience to ensure that we get every aspect of interaction with the product just right. Here's some screen grabs of the user experience that we've been working on in collaboration with MNML.
The main view of the vtalk phone. You will see all of your appointments for the current day, pulled from your favourite calendar platform, so you always know what's coming up next.
Your contacts will be aggregated on the vtalk phone coming from sources such as your smartphone (via Bluetooth) and Linkedin, Google and Facebook. Have everything you need at your fingertips.
Communication isn't just about phone calls, instant messaging plays an important role, and we're building it right into the phone. Initially it'll work with other users on the vtalk phone platform, but we really want to open it up and federate with other networks such as Google.
Clicking on a calendar entry will let you dig deeper and see more information about the event, including who is invited and any numbers that need to be dialled, especially important for conference calls.
You can change the calendar view so rather than just seeing daily, why not monthly or weekly. The choice is yours.
If you've ever experienced a multi-party conference call and you're unsure of who's actually talking, it's really frustrating. Conferences initiated from the vtalk phone will let you see who's speaking at the time, and at any point you can go and instant message other users whilst you're still on the call.
Calling all developers!
Our most important partner of all is you — or at least, those of you in the developer community. Our Kickstarter version of the vtalk phone makes audio calls and video conferences a joy but it also comes with a complete set of developer documentation and an open developer platform, that will allow the developer community to write apps to connect your vtalk phone to other web platforms such as LinkedIn, Salesforce, Highrise, Facebook and Twitter.
We want to ensure that developing for the vtalk platform is effortless. We are big fans of web standards, so building for the vtalk phone is super simple.
- 8.9” HD Display - 1920 x 1080 resolution at 256ppi
- Machined and anodised aluminium body
- Quad Core NVIDIA Tegra 3 CPU
- 2GB RAM
- 16GB Internal storage
- Omnivision 12.7MP front facing camera - 1080p @ 60fps
- Gigabit ethernet with 802.3af PoE
- Second Gigabit ethernet port for PC
- 802.11ac Gigabit WiFi with dual antennas
- Bluetooth 4.1
- Internal stereo speakers
- Stereo microphones
- 2.4Ghz HD Audio link with up to 400ft (120m) range
- 24 hour talk time, with a week of standby time (estimated)
- Multi-touch display with light sensor and accelerometer
- Speakerphone with echo cancellation
- Induction charging base
- Internal LiPo battery (replaceable)
- Machined and anodised aluminium body with glass front
Who are we
We're a small team of passionate people who love to make great products. Since 2004 vtalk have been building brilliantly simple Voice over IP (VoIP) hardware and software for small business users, and we’ve learnt a lot along the way, not only about our customers, but about how to build great software and hardware that works together.
Around 2010 we decided to start work on moving our offering into the cloud so that we could further extend what we had developed and also offer our customers even more. So we switched on our cloud infrastructure and started offering customers a really great service built on an enterprise grade fault tolerant voice network. We've had 99.99% uptime since launch which we're really proud of. Our equipment is located at Equinix's datacentre in Sydney and we own and manage every aspect of our infrastructure.
Along our journey there's been a huge frustration for us that has remained – our services are still being connected to poorly designed phones that are stuck in the past and that no-one seems to like.
This is the reason the vtalk phone exists, and we're really passionate about making it the best possible product we can. This is the reason we plan to make the phone entirely in Australia, so that we can control the process of manufacturing and ensure that it meets our exacting standards.
The vtalk phone will be manufactured locally in Sydney, Australia. Components will be ordered from our various suppliers and delivered to our manufacturing and assembly facilities where all the final work will be done.
Currently the vtalk phone hardware is in alpha state, and we are ramping up to prepare to build the first run of the beta handsets ready for January 2014. Once the beta hardware has been completed, it will go through various testing phases to ensure production readiness, this includes certification for Australia, Europe and the USA/Canada. Our hardware partner Kontron has these facilities internally where we will be conducting all the testing.
The vtalk phone runs on a customised version of Android 4.2. Our SIP stack is already developed and has been in use for some years by our existing customers on our existing hardware and cloud platforms and our iOS application currently available on the app store. We have ported the SIP stack to our Tegra platform and have this running very reliably.
The next steps ahead of us are to continue work on the user interface for the phone and refining the core functionality.
Our first beta phones will go out to our early testers who will rigorously use them in a real world environment and report back so we can continue to make software revisions ramping up to production.
As we ramp up towards production we will be producing a number of smaller verification runs to ensure that all the hardware fits together correctly and runs without issue. This will involve runs of 10, 50 and 100 units.
We are not new to manufacturing and have been producing hardware products since 2008. We're confident in our ability to deliver the vtalk phone on time. Our plan is to have the production run of phones completed by May 2014.
Risks and challenges
We have supplier agreements with a number of different companies to supply components necessary for the manufacture of the vtalk phone. Since we’re a relatively small customer and components like high-resolution screens are in high demand, it’s possible that we may experience delays in supply from these suppliers that may delay manufacture and delivery of vtalk phones.
It’s possible we may need to substitute components from a different supplier if we experience supply or integration issues with some components. In such case we’ll endeavour to source components of the same or higher specification to complete the vtalk phone at the specification we’ve outlined here, because we want the vtalk phone to be awesome more than we want it to be profitable.
vtalk is a small company mostly staffed by contractors and freelancers and it’s possible we might experience growth issues as we expand to cater to the demand for the vtalk phone. That’s unlikely to affect customers backing the developer edition of the vtalk phone on Kickstarter but it’s worth mentioning that we don’t underestimate the challenges involved in building a company that supplies great phone hardware to a worldwide customer base.
vtalk will endeavour to comply with regulation applying to the manufacture and sale of VoIP hardware but it’s possible we may experience an unexpected issue at some stage in gaining any certification necessary in your market, which may require us to delay shipping or arrange for units to be returned for modification while any issues are resolved.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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