Skype's mobile video moment?
You've heard it so many times before - but is this the day that video calling finally takes off? Skype has just updated its app for Apple's iPhone 4 and iPod Touch, making it possible to use the front-facing camera for video calls.
Apple has made great play of its own FaceTime video calling feature on those devices, but there's little evidence yet that it's taken off. That may be because there's little network effect - until you find someone else with the same device you can't make a call, though an update bringing FaceTime to the desktop makes that a little easier.
But the plain truth is that the market leader in voice - and video - communication over the internet is Skype, with 124 million users each month around the world; it is going to be difficult for Apple or anyone else to build a rival base of that size.
That surely makes Skype mobile video calling an attractive option - many of us will have friends and family who already use the technology, so we can try it out. The other big advantage over FaceTime is that you can make calls over 3G, as well as wi-fi.
I tried it out this morning, as I was walking to catch a train to work. Within moments, a rather scruffy figure loomed into view on my phone - and I was video calling an old friend and colleague. Given that we were talking over a 3G network, the quality was perfectly acceptable, though in future I think my friend's voice will be quite sufficient.
If you combine the millions using Skype over the holiday period to talk to friends and family in far-flung places with the growing population of iPhone and iPod touch users, the innovation has plenty of potential. But there are a few questions.
Will it, for instance, come to other mobile platforms? I asked Skype this morning about Android - now quite possibly a bigger mobile community than Apple's iOS - and got the distinct impression that mobile video for Android devices would be coming soon.
Then there's the reaction of the mobile networks, which could provide trouble on two fronts. First, it's another way in which they lose control over their customers' calling - and spending - habits, Second, it could flood their already fragile networks with another tidal wave of video data.
Skype tells me that a video call uses data at approximately 600Kbps; by my calculations a one-minute call would use around 4.5Mb of data. (Full disclosure: I asked friends on a well-known social network to do that sum, so blame them if the figure is wrong.) If we presume that people will still opt to make most of their video calls over wi-fi rather than 3G, that should not chew up too much of a user's monthly data allowance - although it means you certainly won't want to make a 3G Skype call when abroad.
But it looks likely that the internet will have to handle even more video traffic, raising further questions over net neutrality - how likely is it that the networks and the ISPs will soon decide that packets containing video calls should cost more than those containing other data?
The other big question is for Skype itself - can it cope with this kind of traffic? Just before Christmas, the company suffered its biggest-ever technical disaster when millions of users suffered a 24-hour outage leaving them incapable of using the service. Skype says that was down to a bug in a version of its software for Windows, which caused a chain reaction, overloading its servers and bringing down much of the network.
The more vital Skype becomes to the way millions of people and businesses communicate, the less acceptable such an outage will become. So Skype had better be sure that millions of mobile video callers are not going to send the whole network crashing down again.