Sidecar is launching a new app on iOS and taking it out of beta on Android today. It’s an ambitious attempt to rethink what CEO Rob Williams calls the most common and least innovative icon on a smartphone’s screen: the phone app. The basic premise is simple: when you’re on a call with another Sidecar user, you’ll have large buttons to instantly share video, pictures, contact information, or location information with the person on the other end.
Those features aren’t necessarily enough to bring in users — especially since they require people on both ends to install the app. To help ease the way, Sidecar is offering a carrot to potential users: free Wi-Fi calling to any number in the US and Canada. That’s the carrot, but the "stick," as it were, is that after your free call is finished, your recipient will receive a text message letting them know you just called via Sidecar and giving them a link to install the app themselves.
(Image courtesy of The Verge) - Screen shot of the Sidecar app
While Wi-Fi calling is free, if you attempt to call somebody from a cellular network you’ll be kicked over to standard minute usage — unless the person you’ve called is also a Sidecar user, in which case you’ll have a "free" call that uses your data bucket. In all cases, your incoming call shows up with your own phone number, a function no-doubt made easier by relatively lax caller ID verification within the traditional phone system. In theory, that means that you could really use Sidecar as a replacement for your standard phone dialer without too much hassle (if you don’t consider promotional text messages to your recipients a hassle, that is).
If Sidecar is going to replace the dialer, it had better work well. We took a look at the app with founder Rob Williams, who tells us that the company did extensive testing to determine what kind of content people wanted to share before releasing the app. While "geeky" things like sharing documents was tested, the core options seem understandable on both iPhone and Android and, we’re betting, helped out by robust APIs on both platforms for data access.
Sharing video is simple, but unfortunately it's only one-way. Just tap a button during the call, wait for your recipient to accept, and you're streaming video over 3G or Wi-Fi. Williams tells us that the decision to limit calling to one-way is due in part to the company’s desire to focus on the "call-and-share" category rather than positioning the app as "yet another FaceTime or Skype competitor." Be that as it may, it’s a glaring omission in what is otherwise a clever video calling experience. In addition to the video, you can open up a "whisper" channel that sends text messages back and forth — we suppose so you can trash talk whomever it is you’re videoing.
In addition to video, you can share photos from your gallery or taken directly, any contacts from your address book, or locations. The location sharing in particular is well-done: you can share your current location or any other location on the map. Once you’ve shared any of these static pieces of media, they’re saved in Sidecar’s calling history for later reference.