Last year I signed up for a landline phone for my office. I wish I hadn’t for two reasons:
1. No one calls me.
2. Toktumi’s Line2 iPhone app, which adds a second, distinct number to my iPhone.
With a service like Line2, there’s no need for a physical phone at my place of work. I give my Line2 number to all my contacts, and it’s just like having a phone at work — except this office phone is always with me.
Like most people, I don’t like giving out my iPhone number for work but I do it all the time. But when the Line2 number rings, I know it’s a business call. I can route it straight to voicemail, or use the sophisticated Auto Attendtant to make my little company look big and important. “Dial one for the news desk,” it says, “or dial two for advertising and sales.” There’s no telling that both departments are one and the same: me.
Pitched at business users, Line2 is a one of several VoIP apps for the iPhone, but is perhaps the most sophisticated thanks to its enterprise-level virtual PBX.
It competes most directly with Google Voice for Mobile, which Apple has consigned to App Store limbo pending an ongoing FCC investigation. Meanwhile, Apple has approved Toktumi’s Line2 not just the iPhone but also the iPod touch, turning the iPt into a sophisticated Wi-Fi softphone.
The Line2 app costs $0.99. Service is $14.95 after a free 30-day trial. There’s no long-term contract.
The Line2 app can provide a local number, an 800-number, or you can transfer an existing number. It offers unlimited calls in the U.S. and Canada and cheap international rates. There’s no SMS, however, which Google Voice does offer.
The app is true dual mode (VoIP/Cellular) for both inbound and outbound calling. That means it rings and makes calls wherever you have any kind of reception, making it very useful for people who live or work in dead cell zones. One of the reasons I got the landline for the office was because AT&T’s cell connection was dodgy in the building. But when there’s no cell, Line2 automatically switches to Wi-Fi — you don’t have to think about it.
Line2 rings the phone as normal whether the app is up and running or not. This is the big deal breaker for other VoIP apps like Skype, which have to be running to announce incoming calls. Line2 is also the first VoIP app that doesn’t quit if a regular iPhone call comes in. You just dismiss the incoming call and continue your conversation.
It has an easy-to-understand UI, visual voicemail, and a powerful contact management system that integrates nicely with Address Book.
For business users, the big attraction is the sophisticated online PBX system. Configured through the browser, it offers a host of advanced call-routing features like call screening, auto attendant, do not disturb, conferencing, and after hours call handling.
I just scratched the surface setting up an auto attendant that rang various phones my family owns depending on what extension the caller dials. After watching a short screencast, it was pretty easy to set up. The only glitch was that the browser hung a few times in both Google Chrome and Safari. I just refreshed the page and continued. Toktumi says the system is optimized for Interent Explorer and will soon be tweaked for other browsers. After setting it up, however, I was delighted that it worked flawlessly.
Importing my contacts was a breeze, and the system scanned each number to categorize them as “business” or personal,” a first step towards setting up call-routing rules. You can, for example, route all business calls to the auto attendant and all personal calls to ring your various phones until the system tracks you down.
In fact, the online PBX has too many features for a small outfit like mine. You can set up a complete virtual office phone system with rule-based call routing, dial-by-name directories and centralized billing. It seems ideally suited to a de-centralized, online enterprise that is spread all over with dozens of staff and several departments.
For business users, Line2 adds a lot of value to mobile VoIP, especially the full-featured and easy-to-configure PBX. It might be overkill for personal users however, who are unlikely to use half the features. Nonetheless, it may be worth dipping your toes into mobile VoIP while waiting for Google Voice to emerge from invite-only beta — although given the rancor between Apple and Google, it’s unlikely to be ever approved for the App Store..