Thread app aims to modernize caller ID on smartphones

The Android app displays recent Facebook and Twitter content when users receive calls

Brooklyn-based Sprezzat wants to modernize caller ID for people's smartphones with a little help from Twitter and Facebook.

This week the company launched Thread for Android, a mobile app designed to display recent activity on Twitter and Facebook, as well as emails and text messages, whenever a user receives a phone call. The idea is to add a little more context to the experience of receiving calls.

"There hasn't been any true innovation in caller ID arguably in 30 years," said Sprezzat CEO James Lawrence. On smartphones, "it's just the name, number, time, and maybe a picture. So much of the screen is untapped and unused," he said.

The free app, which Sprezzat describes as being in a "flushed-out beta" form, works like this: A user downloads Thread and the app syncs with existing contacts from the person's address book, along with their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Going forward, whenever the user receives a call, the phone's screen will display recent emails and text messages between the two people, as well as any recent tweets and Facebook posts from the caller, as long as the user is already connected to the caller on those social networks.

Just like caller ID did with landlines, the company hopes Thread will help to change people's conversations on smartphones. One example: Say a user gets a call from an old friend. Upon receiving the call, the user could conceivably see that friend's recent pictures from, say, a skiing trip, which could enhance the conversation, the company hopes.

As the call comes in, a horizontal blue bar at the top of the screen gradually expands over a period of roughly 30 seconds, to let the user know how much time he has to scan the displayed content until voicemail kicks in. After the call, the content is redisplayed to give the person an opportunity to reply to any tweets, Facebook posts or any other social network activity.

There are some limitations. The app in its current state may have trouble recognizing Twitter handles for some users' contacts, and some of the content fields may appear blank if two people are not already connected online. Future versions of the app will smooth out these issues, Sprezzat said.

But the app is unique because it incorporates both "push" and "pull" functionalities, the company said. The pushing of the content happens whenever a person receives a call, but Sprezzat points to Thread's dashboard, which brings together the social network activity of users' friends in a single place, as the pull element.

Sprezzat hopes the app, therefore, will pull people in to check out their friends' activity directly within Thread, rather than opening up other social networking apps individually.

An iOS version of Thread will launch early this summer, in either May or June, the company said. Though the app is free, the company hopes to generate revenue through customized dashboard panels and premium feature upgrades.

Sprezzat is looking to incorporate other social networks into the app such as LinkedIn, Instagram, Evernote, Spotify and Pinterest, and also link it to a user's Google Calendar, so the app could deliver alerts before events in a fashion similar to Google Now's personal assistant tool.

The company is currently promoting the app at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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Zach Miners

IDG News Service
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