Push-to-talk, once the killer app of Nextel's iDEN network and more recently a feature offered on certain Sprint Nextel phones, has finally made the transformation into a downloadable Android app called Sprint Direct Connect Now.
The third-largest U.S. mobile operator announced Direct Connect Now even as it continued the process of shutting down the iDEN system. Sprint says the app delivers the key capabilities of Direct Connect and the original push-to-talk, which allow subscribers to talk to each other immediately in a walkie-talkie fashion, without placing or answering calls.
Push-to-talk systems are often used in businesses where workers are on the run and working with their hands, such as construction, manufacturing and service industries. Nextel's pioneering use of the feature won it a devoted following in those fields, which Sprint has tried to hold onto even as it moved to phase out the slow, narrowband iDEN network. Sprint plans to phase out iDEN in mid-2013. Last year it introduced Sprint Direct Connect for use on its own 3G CDMA network.
Like Direct Connect, the new app is based on Qualcomm's QChat technology. It's available for the Kyocera Rise and other devices, according to Sprint. The carrier says Direct Connect Now is interoperable with Nextel Direct Connect and Sprint Direct Connect.
The number of PTT users isn't growing significantly, partly because ordinary consumers have so many ways to keep in touch, such as SMS, Twitter and Facebook, said Maribel Lopez of Lopez Research. The market is still centered on the same group that used Nextel's system, which probably totals a few million users, Lopez said via email. Rivals such as AT&T have tried to attract those subscribers with their own PTT systems but have not made major inroads, she said.
With the Direct Connect Now app, Sprint subscribers can "push to talk" without actually pushing a button, different from current Direct Connect implementations that use dedicated hardware buttons on the handset. The app uses touchscreen controls instead. It synchronizes with the contact list on the subscriber's phone. Using a Group Connect feature, a subscriber can call as many as 21 people at once.
The app is available now from the Google Play store.