By GREGORY ZELLER //
It’s another lunge forward for Aaron Foss, CEO of Port Jefferson startup Telephone Science Corp., and his popular robocall blocker. Nomorobo has already benefitted from a high-profile deal making the tech available via one-click activation to all Time Warner Cable Home Phone customers, and been bolstered by a federal push to require all telecommunications providers to provide robo-blocking options.
Arguably, its greatest victory came in 2015, when the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules giving telephone companies wider latitude in blocking robocalls and spam text messages on landlines and mobile phones.
Now comes Nomorobo’s iOS debut, courtesy of the operating system’s 10th incarnation, which clears a technological hurdle that had prevented the software – which began a limited mobile beta run this winter – from working well on Apple products.
Foss noted that Apple – concerned about “privacy implications” – has historically stopped developers from making call-blocking apps by limiting access to user contact lists and call records.
The inventor “had to innovate around that” to cobble together the Apple and Android beta versions, building them around shared-address-book technology. But when it teased its new iOS 10 in June, Apple announced a new directory extension feature that would allow apps to upload data like robocall-number blacklists – exactly the opening Foss needed.
Through the directory extension, the operating system can compare incoming calls to Nomorobo’s uploaded – and frequently updated – lists, the same way it checks calls against the user’s contact list. Robocalls and telemarketer calls can be routed directly to voicemail, or Nomorobo can be set to label them as robocalls while still giving the user the option of answering.
“We had to take what we did, scrap it and completely redo it,” Foss noted. “This basically allows developers like us to build real call-blocking apps.”
“Developers like us” being the operative phrase. Foss acknowledges the evolution of the iOS system will quickly fill the marketplace with rival call blockers, including Truecaller, an existing Android and Apple caller-ID system boasting a 2-billion-number global registry.
“We knew this was going to happen,” he noted. “Now, the competition on the mobile side is going to open up.”
It’s also going to have to catch up. Foss, one of Hofstra University’s six original entrepreneurs-in-residence, suggested a minimum plateau of 30,000 registered robo-numbers to start a viable robocall blocker, and stressed Nomorobo – which adds 1,100 new numbers per day to its no-fly list – has a significant lead on new players.
“With anybody starting right now, I’ve got a three-year heard start,” he said. “And Nomorobo is updated every hour, with new blocked numbers sent right to your phone, where they mostly have static blacklists that get refreshed every once in a while.”
Nomorobo also avoids the classic tech-company pitfall of biting off more than it can virtually chew. While Foss’ firm focuses exclusively on blocking those unwanted calls, other call-block providers pretty things up with caller-ID systems, text-messaging services and other add-on functionality.
“I have architected this without one single bell or whistle,” Foss noted. “This is a very utilitarian piece of software. The other guys are doing a whole lot of other stuff, but Nomorobo is laser-focused on blocking those unwanted calls.”
Nomorobo, which has been free for landline activation and during its mobile beta, will kick off on iOS with a no-charge, no-account 30-day trial. After that, users will be charged a $2 monthly subscription fee ($5 for a combo cellular/landline package), billed directly through the iTunes store. Such in-app subscriptions, Foss noted, are another new iOS 10 feature.
An updated, monetized Android version is on the drawing board – Foss is deciding between charging for the beta version or building out a new Android version the way he did with the iOS 10 model and re-releasing it through the Google Store.
Either way, with the age of the mobile robocall-blocker dawning, the innovator expects “really big things.”
“The No. 1 request since we started Nomorobo has been ‘when can I get it on my smartphone?’” Foss said. “Now that we’re in the App Store, I think this is going to get really huge, really fast.
“This technology truly does solve an actual problem that people have.”