Skype Goal: “Better than a phone”

StefanOberg.240px The highlight of today’s sessions at Voice over the Net Canada was a presentation by Stefan Oberg, General Manager, Skype for Desktop and Skype Hardware. Stefan’s theme built on Alec Saunders’ Voice 2.0 Manifesto by talking about how Skype is working to be “better than a phone”.

After reviewing the history of text messaging from the telegraph to telex to fax to email, Stefan then contended that the current phone is to voice as the “telex” stage was to text messaging, leaving many opportunities open to build new services and features. He went on to repeat how currently phone services are in a pricing game requiring complex marketing messages to differentiate.

He went on to state that Skype’s vision is “to be the voice communications channel of choice wherever one is: on the PC, on the Web, on mobile devices and in third party applications” … “whenever I need to talk”. But when does one need to talk?

  • Start with people who know each other
  • Expand to people with common interests
  • More formally when I want to buy something
  • When I want to travel but need a translator to make travel arrangements

Stefan then went on to define “how we (Skype) can be better?”

  • High quality, hi-fi stereo audio
  • World phone book – is there an opportunity to pool PSTN numbers?
  • Presence – especially for communicating across time zones
  • Privacy – users can build their own “Do Not Call” list
  • Speed dialing
  • Mood messages – self-publishing
  • Archiving – storing voice mails, chat sessions and call records
  • Text – combining voice and text
  • o Multi-party chat: instant, brief, efficient, persistent
    • Becoming an alternative to email
    • Privacy: no spam
    • Unlimited attachments
  • Conference calling: currently 5 or 10 users but developing a server-based technology for larger calls
  • Video
  • File Transfer

Stefan then pointed out that we are only at the beginning of seeing the features that can be built both into Skype and into third party applications.

Back to the phone: why is the phone so ubiquitous? Five 9’s reliability (even in power outages) and a simple user interface. Stefan mentioned a few guidelines for adding features:

  • Don’t bloat the client – keep it simple
  • But aim to be the Swiss Army knife of voice communications
  • Look for hardware integration in addition to software features.

He then went on to point out as a simple example how Skype gets complicated as soon as a desktop user installs Skype, realizes they need a headset but need to plug/unplug the headset on the back of a(n older) desktop PC. Such a complication (or to use Stefan’s words – “such a terrible user experience”) limits the mass market appeal of Skype; it is a goal of Skype to overcome such hurdles to mass adoption.

Stefan’s concluding slide was his opening slide: “Better than a phone”. We look forward to experiencing new features from both Skype and their third party developer/partner community.

As an aside, Stefan mentioned during his introduction (Carl Ford has a unique way of introducing speakers at VON conference sessions) that there are four divisions to Skype: his (Skype for Desktop and Skype Hardware), Skype Mobile, Skype Telecom (working with termination partners) and Skype eCommerce.

In response to a question about their approach to the business market, Stefan emphasized that Skype is staying focused on its mass market potential as they do not have the resources to address the business market. However, he gave a couple of examples of partners who are addressing the business market: (i) Web Dialogs with their Unyte web conferencing application and (ii) integration with SalesForce.com.

As described in the Voice 2.0 Manifesto, the business opportunities for Skype and their partners lie in the Applications.

About Jim Courtney

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

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