I follow several forums about Skype, for instance at LinkedIn and on eCademy. Recently I have noticed a thread on the LinkedIn Skype for Business Group asking about using Skype without a PC. While eventually I intend to have more detailed information in response to such a question in the reference content on this site, let me summarize what is available as of today. The sales channels for these products are largely through the Skype Store (which is country-specific). Unfortunately several players who had good offerings have abandoned their Skype hardware offerings over the couple of years; however, we are starting to see the emergence of new devices.
Update: March 1, 2010: Access to Skype on mobile smartphones has evolved to several platforms; there are several posts that provide an update to what is stated below:
- Skype for Mobile – Now Focusing on a True Skype User Experience includes a summary table of options, as of March 1, 2010, for running Skype on mobile smartphones.
- Skype for iPhone: Now Legally Available for Canadians
Update: May 30, 2010: Skype for iPhone now works over GSM 3G/HSPA+ networks:
- Skype for iPhone 2.0 Released: 3G Skype-to-Skype Calling to Require a Fee
- Skype for iPhone 2.0: The End User Experience
- Skype for iPhone 2.0: The Commentary and The Reality
Obviously the most popular is Skype for iPhone. With over 1 12 million downloads since its introduction in late March 2009 earlier this week, the major caveat is that you need either an iPod Touch (with a microphone accessory) or iPhone. In both cases you also need to be at a WiFi access point to take full advantage of Skype’s voice and IM features; however, you can also use Skype IM (presence and text chat) on the iPhone using a carrier’s 3G or 2G/EDGE data plan (but not voice). Currently Skype for iPhone is not available in Canada pending resolution of a patent licensing issue. Skype for iPhone does require that the application be open in order to received messages and Skype calls.
Skype Lite for Nokia has been replaced by Skype for Symbian.
Skype has also been developing Skype Lite for a wide range of Java-enabled phones, including the Nokia N- and E-series phones. Again one can use Skype IM (presence and text chat) for those phones that support a WiFi connection (such as many of the Nokia N- and E-series smartphones). But for voice, one needs a carrier for which Skype is setting up arrangements in ten countries. Skype announced earlier this week that a Skype Lite for BlackBerry will be available in May, 2009.
As mentioned in the first update post above, Skype for Windows Mobile has been withdrawn.
Skype for Windows Mobile has been available for several years, recently released version 2.5 and demonstrated the Skype for Windows Mobile 3.0 beta. They recommend its use via WiFi access points; however, its use on a Windows Mobile smartphone over 3G may have performance limitations, especially with respect to battery life.
If you are in one of the nine countries served by 3 as a carrier, you will find the Skypephone 2 available as well as a few other devices that supports Skype operation. Later this spring Skype will appear embedded into Sony Xperia X1 and new Nokia smartphones.
There are two third party solutions that I have used quite often: iSkoot (BlackBerry, several Nokia smartphones) and IM+ for Skype (BlackBerry, iPhone/iPod Touch, a few Nokia smartphones). On the BlackBerry they can take advantage of the inherent background processing to allow Skype chat sessions to remain active while executing other applications; they also require both a voice and data plan (2G or 3G GSM) in order to complete voice calls; chat sessions are supported over a WiFi connection.
There are several other third party offerings which provide Skype access, including Truphone (iPhone, BlackBerry, some Nokia models), Fring (iPhone, some Nokia) and Nimbuzz (iPhone). Suffice it to say that, while one can carry on conversations via these services while dealing with user interface, performance and/or call quality issues, the best service level is achieved from a service where Skype has full control of the software and network connections.
Skype’s strategy for mobile was recently outlined by Skype COO Scott Durchslag.
Dual Mode Phones
About two years ago several hardware vendors introduced dual mode PC-free phones that allow you to connect to both Skype via a broadband Internet connection and the PSTN. However, currently these devices are undergoing a transition as Skype restructures, the only phone that is readily available today is the Philips VOIP3211 which can be found for several countries via the Skype Store. Update, Fall 2009: The only dual mode phone that is readily available as of fall 2009 is the RTX 3088 Dualphone; feedback here. The one caveat for these phones is that they support voice and presence but have no chat capability.
IPEVO also offers their Skype Desktop Phone S0-10, which only provides Skype calling over an Ethernet connection into a router.
Skype Video Phone
I recently received an evaluation ASUS Eee Videophone AirGuru SV1, which provides support for both Skype voice and Skype video calling along with presence information (no chat). My few conversations with it have been quite satisfactory and the user interface provides easy setup of calls. Basically all operations are done via a five-way trackball where you have up/down/right/left to navigate and a central push button to perform an action. While it is basically a video speakerphone, there are headphone jacks on the rear.
To get started you simply plug it into an Ethernet port on a router or switch with a minimum broadband Internet service and enter the setup routine to provide your Skype account information. Optionally it also supports WiFi access if you are not attached via an Ethernet connection.
These are again available via the Skype Store with models provided by Netgear and Belkin that support voice and presence. I have never been a fan of the Skype WiFi phones, especially from a price/performance perspective, as they have very limited functionality and have found them to have battery life issues amongst other problems. But some people seem to like them. More recently IPEVO has offered their WiFi Phone for Skype S0-20.
Skype can be found on the Nokia N800 and N810 N900 small tablet handsets; Sony Mylo and some Sony PSP models. However, these are examples of embedding Skype into a device as part of Skype’s “Skype Everywhere” strategy where conversations become one more feature of a specialty device.
“Skype without a Computer” is inherent in Skype’s new “Skype Everywhere” strategy recently outlined by the new Skype executive team. With the current restructuring of Skype where more mature business processes are being introduced to incorporate product marketing, build partnerships and spread the availability of Skype across many platforms, we can expect to see new “PC-free” Skype hardware coming out in the future. In their visioning statements, beyond mobile devices, they point out that we may see it attached to TV sets, automotive dashboards and embedded into other hardware.
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- Skype for iPhone: What’s the point? (news.cnet.com)
- Skype is Coming to the iPhone. For Real. (mashable.com)