Skype for iPhone first quick thoughts

April 01, 2009

Today was a happy day for the Internet.

Skype for iPhone splash screen

Skype for iPhone was released today.

When I first heard the rumors last week, I didn’t really believe them. But I was ready to be surprised in a positive way. And Skype followed through, with the download really being available Monday night in the US, ahead of the Tuesday launch.

I have many thoughts about the software itself, but I’ll let those bubble around a bit and do a post series, rather than try to vomit everything into a big post right away. But what I can say is this: Skype for iPhone is definitely more interesting than, say, Skype 4 for Windows. Not only because I will myself use it daily, but Skype is really breaking some new territory here and upping the ante in the open mobile platforms struggle.

The product

In short: I haven’t yet been able to makea successful test call with the phone. I’ve made a few that sort of work, but they get dropped or words break up. But I could hear bits and pieces working. This product will definitely drive it home to many people what “hi-fi voice” really means. The video above does not really do justice to the call quality. It’s clear and superior to anything you’d get on a regular phone call.

I think there’s also something wrong with the privacy settings, but I can’t confirm this. After I connected with Skype for iPhone, my Skype on Mac showed that “allow calls” privacy had moved from “only contacts” to “anyone”. But I have cried about bogus bugs before, that have turned out to be my bad, so I’m not pointing any fingers about this bug yet.

I have 900+ contacts and the product is misbehaving – locking up etc. I hear from my Skype friends that you should let it run for a while, and then it starts to work better, but in any case, it’s not optimized for this many contacts. I can fully see the rationale for this. But look: you can also think about this as the opportunity to have me tell 900 people how awesome the new Skype on iPhone is. And if they don’t have an iPhone, Skype alone is a reason to get one. Or, at my office, I have 20 people with iPhones sitting within 20 meter radius of me. Based on my bad initial experience, I am unlikely to be super enthusiastic on the first day. So, the poweruser situation could have been handled a bit more gracefully than making the program unresponsive while the list is being updated.

To balance this last piece out, the product itself is very nicely done, and probably works well with fewer contacts. The chats (“instant messages” in some Skype material) work wonderfully and I’ll write more about that sometime.

Towards open mobile platforms

In less than a day, Skype made it to the top of the list of iPhone App Store free apps. I think this ups the ante about the struggle for open mobile platforms. On its blog, Skype says:

Apple’s rules prohibit third-party voice apps like Skype from using 3G networks. Currently there are no other VoIP applications available for the iPhone that allow VoIP calling over 2G or 3G networks. At Skype, we’re as frustrated by this as you are. We believe very strongly that your mobile network shouldn’t be able to determine the nature of the data that you send and receive.

Bold words. I was wondering whether this is a good enough reason for Apple to not even have Skype up on the App store at all. But apparently not having voice calls outside wifi was good enough. People at at&t are probably trying to figure out right now what do they do about this.

A nicely done launch

I liked the Skype for iPhone launch much more compared to, say, Skype for Windows 4. The latter had a bit too much fanfare for my liking. Whereas on iPhone, it just happened. Done. There. Check.

The only ironic thing is, the App Store is not available in Estonia where Skype was built. Will Skype for iPhone launch contribute to fixing this? I know many people who would be very happy and gave Apple lots of money when this happened.

UPDATE re iTunes Store: as of Apr 2009, it is now open in Estonia. Only for apps, though, not yet for music or other content.