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You can get a new email address in minutes. A new domain name can be yours in a few hours, max. But getting a phone number typically means a trip to your local phone store—and getting a toll-free phone number in another city or country might take a plane trip at best, or be impossible at worst.
Phone communications may be ubiquitous, but they're also mired in bureaucracy and tied to legacy standards. That's what makes Twilio so refreshing—it simplifies phone numbers down to the basics, so you can add phone tools to your apps or get a new international phone number as easily as getting a new domain name.
Twilio is a telephone service designed for developers to build their own phone-powered apps on top of. Just like a transactional email service can send email messages for you though an API, Twilio lets you place and receive calls, SMS and MMS messages, and more with just a few lines of code. It can then help you connect all of your messaging, with support for other messaging services including LINE, Viber, Facebook Messenger, and more to work alongside SMS.
Getting started is impossibly simple. Just signup, and Twilio will immediately give you a new phone number. You can make or receive a call or SMS immediately through Twilio's web app to test your number, or pick another number in any of the dozens of countries Twilio supports.
Then, it's time to setup your new phone numbers. The simplest way is with Twimlets, tiny bits of code Twilio offers to let you forward calls from your Twilio number to any "real" phone worldwide (complete with Caller ID info), add a voicemail, setup a conference call, play hold music, or even add a voice menu to your phone number. If you only need to receive calls from your number, Twimlets may be all you'll ever need.
Placing calls is a tad more difficult—you'll need a 3rd party app for Twilio calls, or can use Twilio's API to build your own phone functionality into your apps. That way, you can add extra features, including call recoding, re-routing, transcription, conferencing and more. The Twilio Client includes the building blocks you need to add phone tools to your web or mobile apps easily, so you can focus on building the tools you need and let Twilio handle the call features.
It's not just traditional phone calls, either. Twilio support video and SIP calls along with push messaging, so you can setup calls between your apps without having to use real phone numbers. It also includes full-featured SMS and MMS support, so you can send messages right from your app, terminal, or through hundreds of other apps via Zapier. Then, you can receive and view messages online, along with the rest of your Twilio account stats. You can also build automated workflows to answer and record calls based on voice-activated menus, send marketing messages automatically, and more.
Phone integration doesn't have to be difficult. Whether you need to build a customized call center, want to make the next great chat app, or just need an international phone number for your support team, Twilio makes it simple to set all of that up and more—and you'll only pay for just the features you need.
Originally published December 9, 2015; updated June 13, 2018 with new pricing and features