Convinced by TU Me, Unconvinced by Joyn

I’ve been testing Telefonica’s TU Me communication app since it hit the App Store yesterday, and I must say it has surprised me, and positively so. It is obviously still in a beta stage and has some severe minuses (doesn’t support group messaging, can’t run in the background, or doesn’t allow to delete old items), but none of that is anything that couldn’t be fixed fairly painlessly by an update or two. The upside, then, is that it offers a great VoIP quality, a smooth navigation UI, and a decent integration with the iPhone’s camera and GPS. And it stores all items in the Cloud (free at least for a year), which is a strong plus in my books. I’m genuinely looking forward to see how Telefonica will enhance/complete TU Me, and how it will pitch it to its subscriber base.

It could be argued that the launch of TU Me is badly timed, given that the telcos are finally seeing light at the end of their RCS tunnel – now that the initiative finally has a consumer-facing identity in Joyn. It’s however a right move, since betting on Joyn as its sole OTT response would have been riskier for Telefonica than going with a two-headed strategy that may cause resentment among its RCS partners.

The main problem with Joyn isn’t necessarily that it would be arriving terribly late. The first commercial launches are likely to take place within the next few months, and as far as I have observed the situation the head-start of the incumbent OTT players isn’t as major as many seem to think. By this I mean that they are by no means complete packages. WhatsApp focuses on messaging, Viber doesn’t do video, and Skype’s P2P technology is generally a bad fit for push notifications and multitasking. FaceTime and iMessage can’t communicate beyond Apple’s walled garden. Facebook doesn’t have enough real estate on smartphones for its own communication functions.

So I’d say there’s still enough time to introduce a service that unifies consumers’ all communication needs under one slick, user-friendly interface. The problem that I see is that when Joyn/RCS finally becomes available – even on a wide range of handsets, thanks to operators’ bullying efforts – its upgrade cycles will be far too long. It has taken a long time to develop, and I don’t have any reason why the forces behind it would be more agile when it comes to taking it further. Cloud storage, an iOS app, tablet support? Anytime soon? Keep on dreaming.

That’s the likeliest reason why Telefonica has decided to hedge its bets with TU Me, which has been released only about six months after the company set up its relatively separate innovation arm in London. It will be able to move faster, release and experiment on products in beta, and kill off unviable projects early on. That’s something what most telecoms operators, let alone a consortium of them, simply won’t be able to do.​