For all the benefits Skype has given users of PCs and MACs, on an iPhone the app was inferior on so many levels. Bluetooth connectivity was nonexistent and multitasking was not allowed on the app – the OS didn’t support it either. Basically you could use Skype for outbound calls on your iPhone but a lack of multitasking meant you dropped calls when you left the app and forget about IM because again, if you left the app to check email or stream music you wouldn’t get your inbound messages.
Today, the company just announced an upgrade which should make Skype one of the most-used apps on the iPhone. The most important move they made was financial as you no longer need to pay to make calls over 3G. Well at this point you didn’t need to anyway but there was a threat that the company was going to start charging after September 1, 2010. This date was pushed to the beginning of next year due to user complaints and now it seems the idea of charging is going away altogether.
The other important benefits of this upgrade has to do with the multitasking support of iOS4 which means you get notified instantly when you receive an IM or call and are in another app or the home screen. This includes the lock screen. I did test this functionality for chats and calls and I was notified instantly of all communications while on the home screen of an iPhone 4. It is worth noting however these benefits come to the iPhone 3GS and iPod Touch if you upgrade the OS.
When chatting and speaking on a non-Skype 3G connection via AT&T I heard an audible tone in the headset when sending messages. I also noticed that while on a call, none of my outbound chats arrived on the receiver’s cell phone until we disconnected the call. When you call using Skype, the application does not support bluetooth, you are still limited to speaker and iPhone as the sole modes of communications. Speaking of communications, the sound quality using Skype over 3G was quite good – it seemed potentially superior to traditional 3G calls based on the single conversation I had during preliminary testing.
One of the very major drawbacks of the iPad is the lack of Skype support with multitasking. In meetings where iPads are deployed there is no way to instantly communicate with a coworker and this makes the iPad a poor laptop replacement for companies requiring instant communications while simultaneously taking notes. The good news is multitasking is heading to the iPad and when it arrives the device becomes one step closer to a netbook/laptop replacement.
This upgrade by Skype could not have come sooner and the company needs to be very careful as Apple is now a competitor with its FaceTime application which allows seamless videoconferencing over WiFi networks. In fact, Skype has to be terribly concerned about becoming disintermediated by Apple and losing its lock on customers.
It goes without saying that carriers too better start worrying about Apple (more). Skype has caught up to some of the other players in the mobile VoIP and chat space and now they need to tackle video. With Apple as a competitor, you have to work extra hard to stay relevant and as always in such wars, the winners are the customers.
Although there was no time to test this issue, I have a slight concern that battery performance could be hampered by running Skype in background as is the case with other mobile devices. TMCnet will certainly have more to report on this issue in the future.