Skype for Mobile – Now Focusing on a True Skype User Experience

During my recent interview with Russ Shaw, Skype’s VP and GM for Mobile, he emphasized Skype’s focus on having a true Skype user experience when it comes to supporting Skype on mobile devices.

What is meant by a “true Skype user experience” on a mobile device? Some examples, based largely on my own experience with several applications that support Skype via a mobile device:

  • Find a person in an address book; press the “Green” Call button on the device and have the option to call via Skype or SkypeOut with a single click.
  • Ensure access to ALL your Skype contacts with no limitation on the number of contacts displayed on the device
  • Search for, and add, new contacts
  • Support for Skype Contact groups
  • Access and manage Skype voicemails
  • Ensure that Group Chat threads are maintained on a mobile device; whereas many attempts at supporting Skype on mobile result in losing the “group thread” aspect of a Group Chat.
  • Easily sign up for a new Skype account and manage Skype Credits
  • Support for call forwarding (to three Skype ID’s and/or numbers)
  • Chat history and call history log
  • A consistent call quality
  • and many more

Now that Skype is becoming mainstream on mobile via Skype for iPhone, Skype mobileTM over Verizon and the recently released Skype for Symbian where these and many other Skype features are fully supported, Skype has decided to remove download access for two older Skype on mobile offerings: Skype Lite and Skype for Windows Mobile.

So what happened? According to Skype’s FAQ on Skype for Windows Mobile their crime was “…. Skype Lite and Skype for Windows phones were not offering the best possible Skype experience”.

  • Skype Lite served as a beta product for building expertise with the architecture and user experience that is now about to be implemented by Skype mobile over Verizon. But Skype Lite, as offered, had no formal carrier support. However, a key business aspect of this architecture is how it can be used to allow Skype to be adopted by carriers such that both Skype and a carrier partner win. And, frankly, I doubt many were using Skype Lite as it really requires:
    • carrier support at the Skype-PSTN gateway inherent to this architecture to provide the robustness and scalability required to ensure consistency of both call completion and call quality.
    • the hardware and intelligence resources of a smartphone to run reliably
  • Skype for Windows Mobile – dropping support here is simply a reflection of the market statistics where iPhone, BlackBerry and Android have become the major players in the smartphone market, especially in North America. Its operation over carrier networks were a gamble; it was a battery hog and did not offer a consistently reliable voice calling experience. And the drain on Skype developer resources to continue support simply would take away talent required to support platforms with broader market acceptance. Maybe a review of this decision is in order once the recently announced Windows Mobile 7 becomes available down the road.
  • As for Nokia, still the world leader in smartphone devices sold, Skype recently released Skype for Symbian where one gets a complete Skype voice, Instant Messaging (presence and chat), SMS and file transfer experience over both 3G and WiFi using a VoIP client on the device. (Warning, when using Skype for Symbian over 3G, ensure you have a data plan that will not clean out your wallet in one or two calls. )

Going Forward: So what are the options for Skype on mobile:

Skype Software Market stats Wireless support Devices Services
Skype for iPhone > 12 million downloads WiFi with 3G support “coming soon” iPhone

iPod Touch

Voice,IM, SMS, voicemail
Skype mobile (over Verizon) ~ 90 million Verizon customers 3G in U.S. – Verizon has best US wireless coverage (but no roaming) BlackBerry

(6 models)

Android

(3 models)

Voice, IM, voicemail
Skype on 3 over 1 billion Skype-to-Skype minutes; estimated 500K users in UK 3G in nine countries Skypephone

Skypephone 2

INQ phone

Other 3 phones

Voice, IM
Skype for Symbian over 200MM smartphones worldwide 3G (via data plan) and WiFi 23 Nokia models supporting Symbian S60 voice, IM, SMS, file transfer
Skype for Nokia N900 recently released; no market data 3G (via data plan) and WiFi Nokia N900 voice, IM, SMS, voicemail, multi-party calls
Skype To Go Australia, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden, UK and the US effectively 3G, requires a supplied “local” number any with a wireless  voice plan Voice, calling to six designated remote numbers

To further enhance the user experience, three other factors come into play:

  • Ideally a Skype application on a mobile device allows multitasking such that IM activities (presence and chat) are being handled in real time in the background while using other applications on the smartphone. Skype for Symbian provides this experience while it has been highlighted as one of the key features of the forthcoming BlackBerry and Android Skype clients for Skype mobile over Verizon.
  • Battery Life: while providing higher speed data services both 3G and WiFi have tendency to drain batteries more rapidly. These are issues that are also being addressed in Skype over Verizon client; this is especially easy to execute on BlackBerry with its API’s that facilitate battery management.
  • Use of superwideband Skype SILK codec: this really requires a full VoIP client that supports SILK. The first mobile Skype client to support SILK will be the next release of Skype for iPhone.

Bottom line: Skype has set new performance and user experience standards for its supported use on mobile smartphones and handsets. Recall that Skype’s initial adoption on PC’s resulted largely from its straight forward ease of installation and configuration; they are now looking to replicate and enhance that ease-of-use experience in the rapidly expanding mobile smartphone space. And, finally, it appears that we can look forward to additional carrier agreements, modeled on the 3 and Verizon experience.

Update: Skype Journal’s Phil Wolff, Orphaning Skype for Windows Mobile users shows Leadership:

Practicing product management sometimes feels like raising livestock. We have great hopes, spend time nurturing them, and get the most out of them during their productive life. When that productive life is over? Take them to the slaughterhouse and kill them. Make room for the next generation.

Update, March 3, 2010: Say hello to Skype for Symbian – now available via the web or the Nokia Ovi store. Includes video interview with Mark Douglas, Product Manager for Skype Mobile.

Update, March 6, 2010: Jason Harris over at TechCraver has been making multi-party Skype calls from his Nokia N900

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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