During our conversations with Skype COO Scott Durchslag last week at CES, Scott outlined Skype’s criteria for its software development going forward.
First was the emphasis on “liquid communications” through statements such as “Skype Whenever, Wherever”. Just as today you can pick up any PC or mobile platform and find all the Google Tools (Search, Maps, News, Reader, etc.) Skype wants to be on virtually any platform or device.
Pick up a smartphone, find the Skype button. Turn on the TV, find a Skype button, have a conversation. Open a web browser; start a Skype session. All this to complement Skype on the desktop. Today, besides on the desktop, you can find Skype on over 200 mobile phone handsets, several (Sony) mobile devices, Skypephone and Apple TV. But Scott emphasized, this is only the beginning. It will only start to get real when we see Skype on higher profile devices such as the iPhone and BlackBerry or when we start to see Skype seriously back into the hardware device business with vendors such as Philips and iPevo.
Then Scott outlined four benchmark criteria that every implementation of a Skype on any platform or device must meet:
- High call quality
- Simple and easy user interface
- Consideration for battery life
Last week’s hotfix upgrade of Skype for Windows 4 beta 3 included the first implementation of Skype’s three year effort to develop the SILK codec, increasing the audio bandwidth to 12 KHz while effectively reducing the Internet bandwidth consumed during a Skype call.
A key reason for Skype’s rapid and widespread adoption has been associated with its ease-of-use. Yet Scott says the Skype conversation user experience needs to be even easier to encourage adoption by a broader user base. Developing a more effective user interface has certainly been a focus of the Skype for Windows 4 beta program. At the Skype CES press conference Scott reported that, in a recent survey of users, 88% preferred the new UI to the previous Skype for Windows 3.8. But I’m still wondering if the Skype for Windows team could take a look at Skype for Mac and implement a “drawer” type interface to manage and select the active conversation. For the longer term evolution of Skype clients hopefully Skype also has a look at Dan York’s post on Skype’s fragmented product strategy.
Battery life on smartphones was a key issue that prevented Truphone, who uses a native VoIP client for calls over WiFi, from launching a native VoIP smartphone client running over 3G networks. Instead they launched Truphone Anywhere that takes advantage of the underlying network 3G GSM voice channel and uses the data channel to set up a call via a server that, in turn, sets up a VoIP client. That voice channel tends to make much less use of the device battery than a constantly compressing/decompressing VoIP client that devours the underlying processor activity. Addressing the battery life issue is a major reason why we see Skype using a similar calling architecture when launching the Skype Lite Java client on over 100 Java-enabled cell phones, including those based on Google Android.
Security is an issue that I’ll leave to Dan York and others who are able to cover this issue more knowledgeably and effectively. Suffice it to say that we would expect security to continue to be a feature of all Skype products, including those that use the mobile voice channel for placing calls from mobile phones.
Two take-aways from these statements:
- Fundamentally we should expect Skype, going forward, to be a provider of real time conversation-enabling software on desktop, web, TV and mobile platforms. To use an old telegraphy term: Full Stop! For instance, rather than developing their own social network, we should expect Skype to seek out agreements with other social network service providers, such as the MySpace agreement. Skype is an enabler of real time conversations; it is not in the community building or social networking business. Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, amongst others have already captured that space and done an excellent job at it.
- These benchmarks also provide a basis not only for deciding what product offerings Skype will develop but also when they are in a position to release a product.
The new Skype executive team is finally starting to set some benchmarks and guidelines against which we can not only measure executed performance but also have a better understanding of where Skype wants to go.
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