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Twilio joins Google to let developers tap the incredible power of the phone system
It’s easy to forget the telephone. We’re in love with the latest shiny piece of touch screen technology, and we ignore the fact it can be used to talk to other people – or to other computers. The dial pad is a simple user interface that’s worked well for almost fifty years, and familiar to people all over the world.
Twilio is a tool that lets developers use that user interface in your apps, working with the switches and services that make up the global telephone network.
To understand Twilio, you have to understand the component model of software programming. Back in the dim and distant days of Visual Basic, companies made a decent living selling software components, which made it easier to add features to programs, adding new views on your data and new ways of getting information in and out of a PC. You didn’t need to re-invent the wheel – just buy a CD-ROM and install the code you needed, link it into your app, and away you went.
Software development has evolved, but the component model is still there. Now it’s migrating to the cloud, giving developers a mix-and-match smorgasbord of APIs and services that you can plug into your apps. Some of them are deconstructions of existing cloud services, like Salesforce’s Data.com, while others let you bring features of a familiar services into your app, like both Google’s and Bing’s mapping tools. Others are more ambitious, built from scratch to offer APIs and tools that let you quickly add new features and services to your apps.
Twilio’s telephony-as-a-service platform is a prime example of this trend. There’s no Twilio app, no Twilio consumer-facing web site; just an API in the cloud. With just a few REST-based commands you can quickly add telephony features to your app or your service. Need to send a text? There’s an API for that. Need to route a call from one number to another? There’s an API for that. Need to build a phone app that works with your call center? There’s an API for that too. It’s a service built by developers, for developers, that’s completely transparent to the end user.
Recently Twilio announced that it was making its service available to developers using Microsoft’s Azure. Today it’s added Google to its list of partnerships, joining the Google Cloud Platform Partner Program. You’ll be able to add Twilio’s voice and messaging features to apps built on Google’s Cloud Platform – including sites and services that use Google App Engine.
If you’re already using App Engine, adding Twilio support is as easy as importing a new Python library or by using Twilio’s Java helper library in your Java apps. Once the tools are in place you can quickly add Twilio commands to an app, using REST calls and TwiML commands. The TwiML grammar is simple and easy to use, with commands to drive Twilio’s text-to-speech functions, as well as handling voice recording, and collecting and interpreting keypad tones. All you need to do is construct the appropriate message, and send it to the Twilio API you want to use.