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Thrutu Aims to Let Android Callers Do More While on the Phone

Even on the fanciest of super-duper-smart-phones, a phone call tends to be a phone call, with one person talking to another. Maybe, if things get really crazy, it’s a conference call.

A new Android app called Thrutu hopes to make calls a lot more interesting.

The program sits on top of the Android dialer and lets callers exchange bits of data while talking, such as their location, a photo or contact information. An overlay presents the various options to the caller, who can press a button and have the information zapped over to another Android phone mid-call. Thrutu’s app also allows one person on a call to make the other’s phone vibrate–a cellular equivalent of Facebook’s poke.

“There’s no real serious purpose to that,” a Thrutu executive acknowledged, though apparently the feature proved fun in testing.

Down the road, the company sees even more in-call capabilities, such as connecting on social media, coordinating calendars, sharing video and playing games. It also plans to open up a programming interface so developers can create other functions. The initial version should be available by Thursday on the Android Market.

Thrutu is the brainchild of a small 20-person division of a UK networking company called Metaswitch Networks. That firm has backing from Sequoia Capital and Francisco Partners.

One hurdle to Thrutu is that the cellular industry has been developing its own scheme, known as Rich Communications Suite, for how to handle some of these tasks. That said, the RCS approach requires changes on the infrastructure side and the industry acting in coordination, so Thrutu imagines it will have a bit of time to be offering its service before it has to deal with competiton from RCS.

The big challenge for Thrutu is that both participants on the call need to have the app for it to work, resulting in somewhat of a chicken-and-egg problem unless the company can find some ways to get solid distribution beyond word of mouth.

There’s also the issue of making money, but the company said it sees lots of potential for monetization down the road and is mostly focused right now on getting the app on as many handsets as possible.

Because it is using data and voice at the same time, there are some other caveats. It only works on networks that allow simultaneous voice and data, such as the 3G and later networks from AT&T and T-Mobile and Sprint’s 4G network. It won’t work on 3G networks from either Sprint or Verizon and it is a bit too soon to say how things will work on Verizon’s just-launching LTE network.

For now Thrutu is Android only, but the company says that iPhone and BlackBerry versions are in the pipeline and that Thrutu’s services should work across any combination of those platforms once the other operating systems are supported.