Pinger, an Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone application developer, provides free texting and free calling through the non-phone device iTouch.

Pinger's Textfree application makes texting and calling possible, sans a mobile phone. And to top it all, it also gives a real phone number, which can later be ported as per the law.

An iTouch does not have an in-built calling or texting feature but can run all the applications made for iPhones over WiFi connection.

The particular feature is a hit among teens, who form the bulk of its customer base. The majority of its users, 28 percent, fall in the 18-to-22 age range; 18 percent are 15 to 17 years old; 18 percent are 12 to 14 years old; 10 percent are 11 or under; 10 percent are 23 to 28 years old; 6 percent are 29 to 34; 7 percent are 35 to 49; and 3 percent are 50 and over, said a report by CNET.

Pinger provides the service for free but is able to justify its usage of phone networks cost by ad revenue generated by huge traffic of messages sent. Pinger's CEO Greg Woock says teens use the service extensively. "They send far more text messages than they talk on the phone -- 72 messages per day," giving it sufficient scope for ad revenue, he says.

There are other similar applications in the Apple App's store but it is only the Textfree that offers a real phone number -- a cool component for teenagers. Since the time Pinger started assigning real phone numbers, it has assigned close to 1.6 million numbers. It sends around 630 million text messages per month with 70 percent of them being sent through iTouch.

Pinger plans to launch a voice calling feature which will allow calling facilities. The feature will allow users to pay for voice minutes or can accumulate talk time by downloading certain free applications. The voice feature will compete directly with Skype, which also uses the voice-over-IP-service. However, it will be different from Skype, and it would not charge for the phone number and for the calls made.

The business model does not affect the carriers as each message sent to their operated phones prompts the receiver to send a message or induces them to call, thus, building indirect traffic. Nonetheless, customers who can afford an iPhone are not likely to switch to iTouch as a calling device.

However, the business model pursued by Pinger reveals how a good ad-based revenue model can make free calling a reality just as an e-mail which started as a paid model but became a free ad-based service later.

In fact, the days of owning a fully sponsored mobile phone -- which has an open source OS and offers advertisement, sponsored calls and messaging services, beside application upgrades -- may not be far.

Pinger's offer of free texting also reveals as to how a device dedicated merely for entertainment -- iTouch -- can be transformed into a phone with a WiFi feature. The possibilities increase further when more devices are built around an open-source OS such as an Android and soon we can see non-phone devices turing into intelligent devices capable of making calls.

Ibtimes

International Business Times, The Global Business News Leader

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