Today marks the 8th anniversary of Skype’s launch as a free voice calling and instant messaging service running on Windows PC’s. Within the first month Skype had over 500,000 users; today Skype can boast of 170 million active users with as many as 30 million users online concurrently.
Skype’s Jennifer Caulkin, in her post, Celebrating Video Calling on Skype’s 8th Birthday, talks about the impact of Skype’s most unique feature: video calling. Having followed Skype since the launch of Skype video at 320 x240 resolution in 2006 followed by High Quality Video calling in the fall of 2007, one continues to be amazed at the various stories where Skype video has made a difference in people’s lives:
- Courtship: Skype’s initial low quality video (320 x 240) helped Eric and his wife carry on a long distance courtship five years ago at a time (before the launch of High Quality Video) when they were physically separated; today they are the proud parents of two children.
- Marriage: in times of geographical and cultural challenges, many Skype video calls have been used to assist and view marriages.
- Birth: Baritone Lawrence Brownlee was under a contract obligation to perform in Paris when his wife gave an early birth to their first son. Lawrence called Skype Video “an invention like the wheel”.
And the recent launch of Skype Group Video, combined with the voice quality of Skype’s SILK voice technology, is behind a very productive and interactive weekly meeting of an mentoring group in which I participate. I have also participated in other Group Video calls with participants across four continents for business meetings.
Aside from the “network effect” of Skype’s 170 million active users is the evolution of Skype well beyond the PC. With Skype’s cross-platform calling, video calls can be made between not only PC’s but also iPhones, iPad, Android phones and Internet-enabled TV sets. The recent launch of Skype for iPad is a perfect platform for video calls from the perspective of both portability and display size.
As Skype’s Jonathan Christensen pointed out at eComm 2008, Skype’s 2003 launch in success was not only due to Skype itself but also due to the confluence of PC market and Internet infrastructure conditions that made it possible to be easily installed and for adoption to take off:
Most Skype video calls on PC’s run at Skype’s High Quality Video standard of 640 x 480 (VGA) at up to 30 frames per second and require a minimum 384 Kbps upload speed on the Internet connection – easily achieved on most broadband Internet services. Recently Skype for Windows and Skype for Mac, combined with appropriate webcams, incorporated support for 720p HD video provided you also have sufficient Internet upload speed.
Today’s infrastructure challenge when it comes to Skype Video calling is the requirement for a 1.2Mbps upload connection to support HD video calling (720p @ 22 fps). Several webcams now support HD video calling; when it happens and your bring a video call to full screen display on a >20 inch monitor, it’s the closest Skype offering to telepresence. But most consumer broadband services cap out at 1 Mbps upload speed. Surely this will be addressed by broadband service providers over the next couple of years.
On the other hand, most users are simply happy with a good quality video call, whether at VGA or HD resolutions. It’s the call experience that matters most. It’s a bonus experience when you can take full advantage of High Quality Video or HD video.
Bottom line: Skype’s video calling has become the mass adoption of AT&T’s picture phone first demonstrated at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. With over 40% of Skype calls using video, it has become Skype’s most prominent defining technology; best of all, one-on-one Skype video calls are free and at a low cost for Group Video calls as one of three features of a Skype Premium subscription. It will be interesting to see how video calling evolves once Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype has been completed (later this fall?).
Update: Phil Wolff at Skype Journal reviews and speculates: Happy 8th Birthday, Skype! Many happy returns.
Note: webcams supporting HD video calling include FREETALK Everyman, FREETALK Conference HD Webcam, FaceVsion Touchcam N1 and V1, Logitech C310/C510 and C910 webcams as well as the webcams on the recently released MacBooks and iMac’s with Intel’s 2nd generation “SandyBridge” iCore processors.
- How is it different from Skype? (skypejournal.com)
- Skype CEO Tony Bates talks about making Skype video calling ubiquitous (blogs.skype.com)
- 30 million people online on Skype (blogs.skype.com)