Thursday, April 02, 2009

Skype Turns iPhones Into... Phones?

Skype is an enigma. It's one of those absolutely fabulous inventions that just never seems to catch on with the mainstream public.

For those of you who need a quick primer, Skype is a VoIP (Voice-Over-IP) technology that allows anyone with an internet connection to make telephone calls. Hook up a webcam and you can also video conference with people. It's always free to call or webcam with other Skype users; it's about 2 cents per minute if the person you're calling is not on Skype.

Personally, I find it to be quite a fun novelty. The Nerfherder Gal and I webcam for huge lengths of time with our friends in Australia, Switzerland, Colorado, and Georgia, and don't have to worry about the cost. My British sister-in-law webcams back to her family in England every week so her parents can make funny faces at the babies. Last week, I had a four-hour-long Skype conference call with some buddies during our fantasy baseball draft.

But despite my best efforts at recruiting, it's just not catching on. The question is, "Why?".

Skype has made business headlines lately becoming the largest long-distance phone company in the world. It stakes claim to 405 million user accounts and is now handling more international calls than even AT&T.

Obviously plenty of people are using the service.

Then, earlier this week, Skype announced that it would be releasing a free Skype-for-iPhone app. This app will allow iPhone users to call other Skype users on computers or supported cellphones free from Wi-Fi hot spots. It even works on iPod Touches, making it a possible thrifty alternative to the iPhone.

Of course, the delicious irony is that, at its most basic level, this story is about how Skype is "turning iPhones into... phones".

Is your mind blown yet?

The VoIP industry has had its well-publicized share of problems, but Skype keeps defiantly gaining more users. The data indicates that it's already reached widespread adoption and it continues to grow at a healthy rate. So why is it that, on an individual level, very few people I know actually use it?

Unfortunately, as much as I personally get a kick out of webcamming on Skype, such a pattern is usually a sign in business of being overhyped.


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