Skype 3.0 for iPhone: New Dimensions in Smartphone Video Calling

The evolution has been long and not without its hiccups. When I first used Skype five years ago video calling was just emerging with a 320 x 240 resolution and not the greatest speed; postage stamp-size video at best. Fast forward to late 2007 when Skype introduced High Quality Video supporting VGA (640 x 480) resolution at television quality frame rates (30 fps); Skype video calling took off in popularity, especially with the “grandparents” calls. Accompanying the observable video improvements Skype has worked to improve the reliability of the network operations behind the calls while reducing bandwidth demands. Then the video channel became available for ad hoc desktop/screen sharing during a Skype call. A few weeks ago we saw the emergence of HD resolution video calling when the conditions are appropriate. But video calling had only been possible for calls between PC’s.

Skype video calls now consume about 40% of all Skype calling minutes. It’s become a regular feature on Oprah and popular for news stories. Healthcare applications have arisen. Recently we have seen “beta trials” of group video calling; apparently Skype for Windows 5.0 supports up to ten participants (it’s tough to get more than three or four onto a call unless there’s a real driving purpose).

But then, last spring, Apple introduced smartphone video calling on the iPhone 4 with its high quality “Retina display” screen. Recently Apple’s FaceTime service expanded beyond the iPhone 4 to include MacBooks and iMacs using Snow Leopard (OS/X 10.6) resulting in a user base that reaches into the tens of millions. But it’s limited to users with either a WiFi or Ethernet connection.

On the mobile side, Skype for iPhone, launched April 1, 2009, has become, with over 30 million downloads, one of the top five free iPhone applications in 2010; it is downloaded on one in four iPhone activations according to Apple. Initially only available over WiFi, its support of 3G connections was announced seven months ago; this 2.0 version  also embedded Skype’s unique SILK code to deliver crystal clear superwideband audio (click on the link for a recording).

IMG_0187Today Skype is announcing (just in time for those New Year’s Eve video calls from New York’s Times Square) Skype for iPhone 3.0 with video calling support. But it’s not just for calls between iPhones; As pointed out by former Skype CEO Josh Silverman in an interview at CES last January, when Skype launches a service, such as video calling, it is immediately available to the over 125 million active Skype users in a quarter.

In summary Skype for iPhone 3.0:

  • IMG_0185operates over 3G or WiFi connections
  • employs Skype’s SILK codec to provide crystal clear superwideband audio
  • supports two-way video calling between iPhone 4.0, iPhone 3G S (using its sol erear-facing camera) and 4th generation iPod Touch devices as well as with any Skype client on a PC (Skype for Windows 4.2 or later, Skype for Mac 2.8 or 5 beta, Skype for Linux)
  • supports one way video calling from an iPhone or 4th generation iPod Touch to iPhone 3G, iPad, Android phones and ASUS video devices
  • Operates in both portrait and landscape mode
  • Support desktop screen sharing from a PC to an iPhone 4 or 4th generation iPod Touch
  • delivers up to 12 fps video with QQVGA resolution (160 x 120)
  • uses either the front camera or rear camera of the iPhone 4

This version only supports calling using the VP7 codec; as the Skype for TV client firmware only supports receiving calls using the H.264 codec, Skype for iPhone calls cannot make calls to the “Skype for TV” supported TV sets at the moment. Skype officials say that this will be supported in a future version; this is also the reason one cannot make calls between Skype for Mac and Skype for TV.

First images tend to be a little grainy with not quite the crispness of FaceTime video. But we’re also looking at half the FaceTime resolution. Also the video could tend to be choppy at times. These were over a WiFi connection at each end. Bottom line, however, is that it is possible to make video calls from an iPhone over not only WiFi but also 3G to over 125 million regular users on multiple platforms. In the end whether one uses FaceTime or Skype for iPhone will become a matter of user convenience: which application is readily available in the context of the call. (Of course this comes with the usual warning that, for calls over 3G, carrier data charges may apply.)

Finally it is also interesting to note that, while their primary video calling service is FaceTime, Apple has allowed another video calling application to become available on the Apple App Store.

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About Jim Courtney

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

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