This is the second of four posts covering the Skype Shop – an introduction, qualifying products offered, learning about an individual product and, finally, making purchases and follow-up.
The first post of this series provided an over view of the Skype Shop (or Skype Store) and how to locate catalogue pages listing categories of accessory products that can enhance the Skype calling experience.
How do those accessory hardware products qualify for being offered on the Skype Shop? Basically, they meet one of two criteria:
- A product is Skype-certified to meet hardware performance and user interface standards to enhance the calling experience, or
- A product has been developed using SkypeKit.
For several years Skype has provided a certification service to ensure the accessory takes full advantage of Skype’s audio and/or video software. In addition the accessory often needs to meet Skype user interface criteria to ensure a calling experience that is transparent to the underlying technology. Vendors are charged for the certification process; however, the cost is such that almost any level of sales success will ensure the certification cost recovery.
Skype certification does not necessarily relate to the “features” of a product. For instance headsets obviously need to include a speaker and microphone but including a volume control is not a certification requirement. In another example, webcams, while often including a microphone, do not need a microphone to meet Skype certification as a webcam. Adding such features are solely product marketing decisions of the hardware vendor.
On the other hand HD webcams must have the potential to deliver 720p resolution @ 22 frames per second when appropriate network upload speeds are available. But sometimes the user’s network connection and physical location also needs to be considered as performance criteria beyond Skype’s control:
- HD webcams must have the potential to deliver 720p resolution @ 22 frames per second when appropriate network upload speeds are available
- “conference room” or “family room” webcams do need a microphone array to take advantage of Skype’s beam forming audio software that eliminates background noise and echo effects.
To take an example – the FREETALK Everyman Headset. Beyond its low cost, it has been a popular item due to both its audio performance and convenience in handling. Two Skype hardware specifications it had to meet were:
- bypass the PC’s audio chip with an audio chip that would meet the superwideband audio bandwidth performance of Skype’s SILK technology
- ensure that, when the headset is plugged into the PC, it is automatically set as the default speaker and microphone in the PC’s Skype client.
There are also audio specifications for the audio bandwidth of the physical microphone and speaker hardware. Features that are not certification requirements include:
- its flat-fold design that makes it possible to easily carry the headset in a briefcase
- its detachable 3.5mm speaker plug that allows use for listening to music on an MP3 player or airplane entertainment audio
Another example, the Logitech C920 webcam, had to meet the ability to handle VGA (640 x 480) resolution at 30 fps and 720p HD resolution at 22 fps (it actually goes to 30 fps). But including two “stereo” microphones, capable of handling superwideband audio and using Skype’s beam forming software, means it can be used in small to medium conference rooms without the need for a separate speakerphone.
Developed using SkypeKIt
Over the past two years Skype has developed its SkypeKit API set that allow hardware and software vendors to access the Skype software for chat, voice and video calling. A recently released example of hardware using SkypeKit is the TelyHD platform for Skype on your TV.
- It gets a “Skype Rating” from Skype’s certification engineers
- Vendors can use the Skype logo on packaging and in marketing activities
Bottom Line: Hardware accessories offered on the Skype Shop deliver not only the level of audio and video performance required to take full advantage of Skype’s voice and video software but also assurance that use of the hardware optimizes the Skype user’s calling experience.
Next in this series: Product Presentation: how can the buyer learn more about the product before making a buying decision.
Disclosure: The vendor of the FREETALK Everyman USB Headset, eBuyNow, was a client of the author for a two year period, ending February, 2011. It is taken as an example for two reasons: it sets an excellent example to demonstrate the difference between certification requirements and “features”, and I am still using one after 2.5 years simply for its convenience and performance. And of course it’s quite durable.
Update from Ash Valeski, Skype’s Global Shop Manager:Welcome to the Updated Skype Shop