Skype for iPhone: Beyond the Hype, It's Still Just Skype

The new Skype iPhone app is more interesting as a political statement than as an application. Not that there is anything wrong with the app, except, of course for the large number of people who can't get it running properly. For them I have good news: You aren't missing much.

About half the early users, based on App Store feedback, love Skype for iPhone. The other half can't get it to run properly. I am one of the lucky ones, as Skype works fine on my iPhone.

However, once I started playing with it I realized that for all the hype, it's still just Skype. Not that it's a problem, it's just that Skype does what most other instant messaging clients can do these days--make voice calls.

Skype is much more impressive as a tool for desktop video conferencing than as a way to make phone calls on an iPhone connected to a Wi-Fi network, which is all AT&T and Apple will allow it to do, at least for now.

On Monday, I wrote that Skype over wireless data would be the end of cellular as we know it. That post generated a great deal of e-mail, including some additional information provided by readers. Here are a few highlights:

One reader pointed out that I wrote that Skype over wireless has "been tested in the UK with some success (and no carrier bankruptcies)."

According to this reader:

"It's more than a test: In many European countries (namely Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, and UK) and also in Australia and Hong Kong, you just walk in a shop, buy the phone and start making free Skype calls (only voice, no video, for now, at least in Italy). There is a flat monthly fee but it's ridiculously low, compared to the US monthly fees they ask just for voice.

"It's a product, it's ready, there isn't any cap on usage. And the carrier is making money on it, probably not a bunch, but a fair amount. When I moved in the USA I was surprised NOT to find it in stores here."

It is no secret that the FCC long-ago sold-out American wireless customers to the carriers. The reader offered yet another example of what a third-rate cellular system we have in the U.S.

Here's another response:

"I don't understand what is the big deal. I have a 3-year-old PPC6700SP PDA (from Sprint) and I've been running Skype on it for 2 years. Run it on the Sprint "Vision" data network. Works fine, but takes longer to "dial" a call. It's useful for certain things, however, such as international calls."

And another response, this one contradictory:

"While I agree wholeheartedly that "nanny Apple" should not be controlling the apps on an iPhone and as a result have been a Windows Mobile user for YEARS. The real issue for Skype on a 3G network is that it doesn't work. The 'bursting' nature of the 3G data stream which creates a simulation of continuous speed just doesn't work for VOIP. We in Windows Mobile land have known this for years! (Same on EDGE)"One reader proposed a whole new model for selling wireless:

"You're right that this is a shift, but big picture, the whole model we're using is silly. DSL, Cable, 3G, etc, etc - it's all so clunky and fragmented. Here's what I think ought to happen: Meld all these into a big network, and simply charge users annually by the (Ethernet hardware) address to allow access. Want your laptop to have internet access *anywhere* there's a signal? That'll be $100 a year, please. Want your handset to have a signal? That'll be another $100 a year. Wherever you are, grab the nearest network and go."

I like the model and especially like the pricing. There were many other comments, of course, many from people who don't like AT&T, don't like Apple, or don't like both companies.

All your comments were read and appreciated. Please write again when I strike a nerve.David Coursey loves getting e-mail and tries to answer every one. Contact him using the form at www.coursey.com/contact.

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