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Skype Has A New iPhone App. Do You Care?

January 25, 2011 | Kendal Kirby
skype_logo.jpgBy Sagee Ben-Zedeff via RADVISION

[This post was written in the last days of 2010, a few days before Skype has (according to some serious rumors) acquired Qik, which in my view asserts all that is written below. Therefore I decided to leave the post intact, and to write directly about this acquisition when the picture will be clearer.]

Ending up 2010 with a bang, Skype - the company that became synonymous with video calling - finally announced the general availability of its new iPhone app, this time with video. And while missing the "first comer" badge (to Fring or Apple, depends who you ask) and most of the buzz that comes with it, you can't ignore the fact that Skype has finally decided to step into the field.

What everybody notes first whenever Skype is mentioned is their huge user base (560 million?), and that's why everyone assumes they are the top contender in this fight for video calling world domination. But with all due respect, I think Skype may have missed the train here in a big way, and let me explain why.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for skype_has_new_iphone_app.jpg1. 500+ Million Users? - Here's a personal reality check: I have 4 (!) Skype user names (don't ask...), and yet I haven't used Skype for more than 2 years. Not that Skype haven't got millions of users using its services, and not that video calling isn't playing a large role in their usage numbers, but since a few years ago, and especially in the age of the mobile phone, things have dramatically changed.

Have you noticed the recent success of Tango and Viber in the iPhone space, to name just a few?  The big deal, IMHO, about these 2 apps is that they don't really have a user base. Not in the sense that we were used to at least. They simply use your phone's contact list - no "registration" needed, no new user name and password. And so everyone is (potentially) a user. Of course, both parties should download the application to properly use it, but the experience is "download and start calling". As simple as that.

And it's a big change. Because I don't really care about the other 499,999,999 users, you see. I just care about the people in my address book. As long as I can call them, I'm happy.

2. Multi-platform - iPhone is great and all, but it is still NOT the most commonly used handset. Not even among my tech-savvy friends. What vendors like Kik, Fring and a bunch of other companies have realized is that you can't really sustain a decent experience if you limit yourself to one handset or one handset vendor (remember the Apple owners dating service?).

Skype was late, very late, to the iPhone, and Skype is late, very late, to the rest of the leading mobile platforms, and this can prove to be a major obstacle in their (re-)go-to-market strategy. After all, I want to call my friends, and I don't really care what device they are using. If Skype can't pull through, someone else will.

3. Interoperability - Here's where Skype is just following the peck. And the lack of interoperability is not only hurting the user experience, it hurts the overall unified communications theme. There is a big opportunity here, but it's clear that interoperability issues would hamper wider adoption. Steve won't play nicely, Skype won't either, nor would the rest of them apps. And now it's a service provider's headache to build a service based on some proprietary solution that no one really knows all the way.

And so as much as I love what Skype (and Apple, and Fring, and the rest of them) is doing for the visual communications market, I am quite skeptic about Skype's role in leading the market onwards. As Ryan Kim of GigaOm recently wrote:

"I'm personally a fan of video chat services, but the fragmentation between providers limits its usefulness to me."

So there you have it. It's not that the Skype iPhone app wasn't a big deal, but I think that the recent launch is more of a spin in light of the recent outage rather than a serious strike back in the faces of the competition.

With Android picking up (Google Talk?), with Microsoft investing in the mobile arena (Lync?), and with more and more service providers considering adding video as part of their service in 2011, Skype may just as well become "just another app" if they don't come to their senses and start investing in what matters.

And maybe, just maybe it's already too late.

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