- 30 Mar 09, 14:08 GMT
So, after plenty of rumours, and even more leaks, the "free" internet calls service Skype will finally come to Apple's iPhone on Tuesday. Is this the moment that Voip - to use the ugly jargon - finally makes the leap from the laptop to the mobile? After a quick play with the new application, I must say I'm sceptical.
It works fine - just install the app, tap on the icon and Skype launches with the familiar start-up sound you get on your computer. Your contacts list then tells you who is online - and you can either send them an instant message or make a call. When I tried it, the sound quality was about the same as on any mobile call - and as it was to a Skype contact it was free.
But here's the catch - I could only make the call because I was on a wi-fi network. Apple's restrictions on the use of its software development kit mean that Voip applications cannot use the 3G network. The other issue is that the iPhone doesn't allow you to have more than one application open at the same time - so your Skype buddies probably won't be able to get you on the phone unless you happen to be in the app when they call.
Most iPhone users will be on a contract giving them a lot of call minutes - so it's unlikely they'd want to use Skype unless they were abroad - or calling abroad. And wi-fi, as we know, is a lot less widespread and efficient than we might have thought it would be by now - whereas fast mobile networks are now widely available.
You can already use Skype on a dedicated phone from the 3 network, and Nokia is building the application into its N series of phones. In both cases you can make free calls to other Skype users over 3G as well as via wi-fi - so why would you choose an iPhone for its Skype capabilities?
What might make it into a killer app is free video calls - which aren't available on any mobile right now. but for that to happen on an iPhone, it would need a new camera on the front of the phone.
Skype is obviously very happy to be on the iPhone. But unless Apple takes a radically different approach to integrating the free calls service into its phone, it's unlikley to make a huge impact. And like many businesses, Apple is probably wondering whether "free" is such a great idea anyway.
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