Over the past couple of years, there have been lots of requests, rumors, speculation, etc. about why Skype needs a client for the Symbian platform, for which Nokia is the primary device vendor. Through Andy Abramson’s Nokia Blogger Program I have been able to evaluate several Nokia N Series phones including the Nokia N80i which supports both GSM/EDGE/UMTS and WiFi (and, on which, I have used the Truphone service over WiFi).
Alec Saunders recently pointed to a Business Week report on 2006 smartphone sales which states:
During the year, Nokia remained top converged device vendor with market share of 48 per cent and 38 million devices shipped, despite underperforming in North America and the enterprise market, which the company hopes to counter with a number of fresh devices which debuted earlier this year.
The report goes on to state that RIM was [a distant] number two at 7.5 million while Motorola rose to number 3 with its new Windows Mobile devices at 4.9 million.
Recall the primary issues with Skype on any 2.xG GSM platform are (i) the (unacceptable) inherent latency of VoIP on a 2.xG service and (ii) the economics of current data plan pricing, especially in North America. (And we are not going to see the level of carrier support for WiFi networks in North America that is being witnessed in Europe and Asia in any near future scenario.) The only offering currently available to wireless customers at this point is 3 Group’s X-Series service where there is a Skype client for Nokia’s N73 and the subscriber plan allows unlimited usage.
Going forward start with Stowe Boyd’s statement in his presentation at eTel earlier this week:
In the second half he begins by saying that the buddy list is the center of the new universe. Social networks are key — the individual is the new group, and the value is not in the number of people in the network, but rather the number of connections. Bingo! It’s the same logic Google uses to rank web pages. More links equate to more authority.
With over 170 million accounts, one could say Skype has a lot of “authority”. So here is my suggestion for a roadmap for both Nokia and Blackberry platforms:
- Develop a Skype client that simply centers around IM but does not include voice.
- It allows you to keep in touch with your Skype “buddies”.
- Default to the underlying phone service for actual voice calls.
- Low bandwidth but actually helps drive up usage (and, maybe, ARPU).
- When 3G networks become more readily available (especially in North America), develop a Skype client that has all the standard Skype features.
- This could require working with the carriers to offer an unlimited usage plan but needs other competitive factors, such as other services that need significant data transfer volumes, to accelerate the process.
With 48% market share worldwide and 3 million devices, the demand for a Skype for Symbian solution becomes ever stronger, even if it initially only uses Skype’s IM capabilities.