Skype for iPhone 2.0: The Commentary and The Reality

Skype4iPhone.image_[1] Since its release late Saturday, Skype for iPhone 2.0, with its support of calling over 3G carriers and superwideband audio using Skype’s SILK codec, has set the blogosphere awash with two genres of commentary: those who seem to think the end of free Skype calling is approaching as an Armageddon and those who recognize the launch of Skype for iPhone 2.0 as not only setting a new benchmark for mobile voice calling, especially for call quality, but also having a significant impact on the overall smartphone market.

Re the “small fee” (now set to start at the beginning of 2011), I simply say this is one more sign that Skype is a business with investors who are looking for a return. Nobody can argue about its value-add, both in terms of providing international mobile calling convenience but also by delivering a significantly enhanced user experience through establishing a new benchmark for mobile call quality. This outcome definitely justifies a “small fee”, provided it is not obsessive. Alec Saunders, author of the Voice 2.0 Manifesto, positions this issue appropriately in “Skype’s “small fee” is noise, guys”:

Sometimes you have to really shake your head at the quality of the commentary on the internet.  Fact: Skype has finally released a version of Skype for iPhone that supports calling over 3G networks.  Never mind the fly in the ointment that all the commentary is  stuck on – the fact that Skype wants to charge a “small fee” for you to use it on a 3G network.  Frankly, that’s noise.  People will pay for the ability to make a high quality Skype call on 3G, and not pay their carriers long distance termination charges in foreign markets.  So long as the fee is reasonable, nobody is going to object.

Alec goes on to make several points about what the launch of Skype for iPhone 2.0 really means; his post is well worth the read. (Full disclosure: as Canadians who participate in the Canada Pension Plan, Alec and I each have a $17.50 investment in Skype.)

As for the new benchmark for mobile phone call quality, there are several impacts. But first, if you have not heard it already, click here to hear Skype for iPhone 2.0’s “near CD-quality” call first hand between myself and Dean Elwood in the U.K.

Andy Abramson comments on how deeply Skype developers may have gone into the iPhone hardware to achieve this result in “Skype on 3G-Something Borrowed, Something New”; he concludes with:

How good? Well put it this way..why would anyone with an iPhone want to call over old AT&T after their first Skype over 3G call. Oh, and yes, it makes Skype on Verizon sound like, well, a plain old telephone call…..Ma Bell, you’re back sounding like you’re old self. The way the boys in the labs have always dreamed and said you could.

Over at Voyces.com, in “Skype for iPhone over 3G: An Industry Benchmark Game Changer for Skype”, I have commented on the broader impact of Skype for iPhone’s support of SiLK. Simply put, it has the potential to place Skype as a key mobile communications software infrastructure supplier across the entire mobile phone industry. Not simply because of the technology itself but rather as a result of demonstrating high quality voice calls accessible to Skype’s several million users through a single application for the iPhone resulting in several million end user experience – the “Skype network effect”.

With the support of SILK in a smartphone application that runs over both 3G and WiFi, calling costs become almost secondary to an exceptional end user experience with voice quality on mobile devices.

SILK has now become not only a benchmark but also a key communications infrastructure element. End users will pay for a quality experience, especially when it impacts business productivity. Both wireless carriers and smartphone vendors need to rush to ensure they have incorporated Skype’s SILK technology into their offerings. Otherwise the iPhone (iPad and iPod Touch) have one more key feature that sets them apart from the remainder of the smartphone users.

Dean Elwood sums up this “Skype network effect” best when he talks about the Skype “on-net” calling:

The proposition for Skype’s shareholders is the fact that you have to be on the Skype network in order to get the “near CD-quality”. Because you don’t get hi-def when you call a regular landline or mobile, only another Skype-enabled device. So if you want to make free calls to your friends, they all need to get on the Skype net.

and concludes with…….

It’s the mass-market adoption of Skype that makes it work. You need to be on their network, along with other contacts you call regularly, to make it work for you. So in the absence of interconnect, which Skype do not do, your a. n. other mobile VoIP carrier of the future has to start from the ground up.

Bottom line: Dean backs up his observations by telling me that he will be making most of his voice calls using Skype for iPhone when away from his office. It would be most interesting to see not only if this drives more users to using Skype as opposed to the carriers’ voice channels but also the fallout for the transition of communications from a very hardware-oriented infrastructure to a complete software infrastructure operating totally “in the cloud”.

Next: the questions that remain to be answered going forward.

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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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