David Goldfarb's phone won't stop ringing.
The Vringo CTO is giving me a demo of Vringo's video ringtone service, now in public beta, to demonstrate how users can assign phone-formatted video clips as their outgoing ringtones. David has chosen a humorous singing cartoon of a green bear as his video calling card. He's set it up so that any phone he calls with a Vringo client will light up with his chosen video. If so desired, he could limit the output to his wife and send everyone else a much more sober video to announce his call.
Vringo reverses the conventional ringtone concept of users choosing songs to differentiate between contacts, entertain themselves with favorite songs, or make a stylistic statement. Here individuals control how they're perceived by friends, and can use "vringos" as a gift or personalized greeting. Users can upload their own clips on Vringo.com or record clips from within the Vringo phone app. It's easy to see how users could create happy birthday messages or video gifts.
From the mobile app on J2ME-enabled phones, folks can also reassign video ringtones and replay friends' videos, especially if they interrupted the video to answer the call.
It's all too good to last; Vringo won't be free much longer. In the first half of 2008, the company will adopt a pay-per-download model for premium vringos. Though they'll reserve a freebie collection, there's also that pesky data charge each time a friend swaps their clip.
"This is probably the single biggest downside of the service," Goldfarb says candidly. "We are putting in features where you can limit the number of [buddy] uploads." The upshot is that users are only charged for clip downloads once.
Voice and the Internet are converging very fast," Goldfard continues, "and moving towards being very data-centric. At that point, [charging a flat usage fee] will be much easier to do."
Perhaps they'll also come up with a way to reverse the data charges. Vringo collect, anyone?