Lots of hype last week (Mark Evans, VoIP Watch, Telelphone World) about a new service from Mobivox beta whose offering effectively lets you call your Skype contacts from a mobile phone. Once registered on the service, simply dial a local access number, tell VoxGirl whom you want to reach via Skype and a connection is made. I tried the service over the past week with some success but also have to issue some cautions as the key word here is "beta".
I have spoken with Stephane Marceau, CEO of Mobivox; he assures me that their primary goal is to enhance the Skype experience. Before releasing the beta version last week they did an alpha phase that involved over 1,000 users and raised many issues that have been addressed.. This beta is surfacing additional issues that they intend to tackle. With this background here are my cautions:
First, as acknowledged on their site, Mobivox "uses the Skype™ API but is not endorsed, certified or otherwise approved in any way by Skype™". And, as will be shown, in its current beta form, for good reason. On the other hand, when they have developed the basic service to an acceptable level, they intend to seek Skype certification.
To use the service, you must provide your Skype name and password. While Martin has authentication logistics issues in this respect, in practice it also creates an open Skype session for your SkypeID on the Mobivox server. But, as opposed to sessions over which you have local control on your own PC(‘s) and Skype phones, once you make a Mobivox-enabled call to a Skype contact, that "Mobivox" Skype session appears to be left open. But it is then also open to the issue of having Skype recognize which PC you are actually at; recall that Skype 3.2 is currently the only Skype client that can currently deal with multi-device presence. (My installation is the latest build of Skype 3.2 for Windows) As a result, and as confirmed by some testing done with a couple of Contacts yesterday, the Mobivox-activated Skype user cannot receive File Transfers back at the local PC (and may not receive all his/her Skype IM chat messages). The only way to recover from this problem is to go back into your Mobivox profile and delete your Skype Name. This is similar to an issue that I also found in my original experience with Fring. (Note that this issue only applies to files being received; I can still send out files.) In its current beta implementation the only way to use Mobivox effectively without losing Skype features on your PC login is to go into your Mobivox profile and restore/delete your Skype name every time you leave/return from your base PC location.
Another issue relates to the user interface. With Truphone I can look up someone in my standard Contacts directly on a Nokia N-Series phone and access any phone number via Truphone’s service. No dialing, no change in the normal wireless call placement logistics, no need to remember my Contacts’s names and how exactly they are entered as a Contact name. With Skype itself or services such as iotum’s TalkNow I can get real time presence status via an appropriate client. Mobivox’s use of VoxGirl to verbally make a (Skype) connection and to provide presence information reminds me of "Operator, Operator" — my wife did see a "My Life and Times" presentation by Lily "Eernestine" Tomlin earlier this week! Think of VoxGirl as Ernestine without a sense of humor.
The voice recognition got me to a few Skype Contacts. However, at one point VoxGirl had trouble recognizing Phil Wolff’s name, so I was offered the chance to search for a name via my phone keyboard. (Did "she" get confused with Jill or Bill who are also on my contact list? Or is it a case that Phil has as his user name "Phil Wolff | Skype Journal | Oakland"?) Have you ever tried to use the 12-button T9 keyboard algorithm on a Blackberry QWERTY keyboard? Not user friendly to say the least! And it did not get me to Phil via Skype.
The bottom line here is that a fully featured Mobile access to Skype over GSM networks remains a dream. I still say, give me a mobile Skype IM client on my Blackberry and use the underlying wireless phone service for voice calls until such time as VoIP over GSM becomes both an economically and technologically viable, as well as a user friendly, option. And be cautious when using products or services that are not Skype certified; you can never be sure when your Skype service is not "all there" through no fault of Skype’s.
On the other hand if you want to try out the beta service, recognizing there are some issues, and provide the Mobivox team with user feedback, give it a try. After all, even with these cautions, it does provide low cost calls to Skype users around the world. I look forward to providing progress reports as this service develops.
Update: the Mobivox team has recognized there can be issues when dealing with presence and chat messages; they have responded to some of my issues above. Since it provides some insight into what these issues are and how to address them, their response will come in a separate post.
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