Twilio launches an app for frontline workers, a free 1:1 video toolkit and a new IoT platform
Twilio is hosting its annual Signal conference today and as usual, the company is using the event to launch a host of new products and features. For the most part, especially if you’re a web or mobile developer, these are not groundbreaking new features. The core Twilio services, after all, have been in place for a while now. Instead, today’s announcements build out some of the edges of the overall Twilio product ecosystem.
The most interesting launch — at least from the perspective of most developers — is probably the general availability of Twilio’s Video Web RTC Go. The free video service allows you to add 1:1 video chats to your web and mobile applications. The company notes that this is not a free trial, but you are limited to 25 GB of bandwidth through Twilio’s relays per month, or about 100,000 participant minutes. You also get logging and diagnostic features. So freemium, I guess, but with generous limits to get you started. If you need more, you can upgrade to a higher tier later.
“Twilio Video WebRTC Go is a free tier and a free offering for developers to get started building those one to one video connections for things like distance learning, client consultations — all of those things that you might have a need for in these new use cases that we’ve seen evolve through the pandemic,” Quinton Wall, Twilio’s Senior Director for Platform and Developer Experience, told me. “And what we really wanted to do is take away all the barriers and make a free tier — and a perpetually free tier — that gives them all the tools that they need to build on top of WebRTC to get going. ”
The second major announcement is the launch of Twilio’s latest IoT service: the Microvisor IoT platform. Twilio acquired IoT hardware and software specialist Electric Imp earlier this year and when it first launched its IoT efforts, it started with cellular connectivity through its Super SIM product. The idea behind the Microvisor IoT platform is to give embedded developers all the tools they need to build connected devices and the lifecycle management tools to keep them updated and secure.
As Evan Cummack, the GM of Twilio IoT, told me, as the company dug deeper into the IoT market, it found that a lot of projects were failing.
“When we really dug into what was going on with our customers individually, what we saw was the reasons for a lot of these failures,” he explained. “Sometimes it was a fundamental misjudgment in terms of what end-users wanted, or the end-user experience, or value and business models, but a lot of the time, it was a technical failure, or it was that the technical challenges were so steep that the ROI equation fell apart. You couldn’t deliver substantial enough value in order to justify the technical effort required.”
With Electric Imp, Twilio bought a full-stack platform — and there are others like it on the market. But as Cummack noted, most businesses aren’t buying those. Instead, they are trying to build their solutions from scratch and Twilio’s hypothesis was that they were doing so because they wanted to be able to write native code for these devices. Combining that with the convenience of a full-stack platform is difficult.
The solution the team came up with combines this new software platform with a recent hardware innovation by Arm: TrustZones. But with Arm’s TrustZone hardware isolation feature at its core, the Microvisor platform only runs on devices that use the latest Cortex M-based processors, which obviously means its not a service you can use to upgrade your existing solutions. In return, users get secure boot features, over-the-air firmware updates and secure tunnels to connect to their devices, in addition to remote debugging features.
Also new today is Event Streams, a new API that helps developers aggregate data from all of their Twilio-powered experiences across voice, SMS, wireless connectivity through Super SIM, TaskRouter and more. The idea here is to give users a better understanding of how these channels are being used — and less so for understanding their bills and more for helping them build tools that allow businesses to better understand how they are interacting with customers.
Lastly, there’s Twilio Frontline. This isn’t really a developer product but a React Native-based app for frontline workers who may need to communicate with customers. Think of an employee in a store who needs to talk to a customer who is waiting outside. The app focuses on chat, with support for SMS, WhatsApp, and web-based and in-app chat clients. Frontline can also be integrated with existing enterprise authentication and CRM systems.