Earlier last month, I had a chance to meet with the folks at Skype when they launched their mobile app for Android and BlackBerry smartphones on Verizon Wireless. While the entire announcement was groundbreaking, since it was Skype’s first partnership with a cellular carrier, there were some underlying catches. It turns out that the exclusive partnership limited the availability of the Skype Mobile app to just Verizon Wireless customers. Under this contract, current owners of Android and BlackBerry devices on other carriers can not find the application in the app store at this time. While Skype Mobile is a native app, the service only runs on Verizon Wireless’s 3G network. Fortunately, that’s all about to change.
After a quick email exchange with Skype’s PR team, I learned some interesting details. Although their representative was careful not to disclose any specifics regarding the existing contract between Skype and Verizon Wireless, they did reveal some exclusive details on the availability of the Android App for customers on other carriers along with the future of mobile video chat. When I asked about the possibility of Skype Mobile video chat becoming available for the brand new Sprint HTC EVO 4G, the response was exactly as follows:
Skype envisions a world where video plays a larger role in the way we communicate. The next generation innovation involving video calling will not be bound to the computer. We’re seeing a proliferation of video calling shared between all kinds of connected devices. It’s on computers (today 1/3 of all calls on Skype happen via video), televisions (Skype bringing video calls to living rooms via Panasonic, Samsung & LG partnership), and it will eventually be coming to mobile devices too. We’re betting big on video, and we intend to set the bar on mobile video calling, and it’s something we’re going to do this year.
We will be bringing a direct to consumer app to the Android marketplace later this year. This application will be available for all consumers globally to download regardless of carriers. (i.e. similar to how we offer the iPhone app today)
— Brianna Reynaud, Skype PR
Skype’s bold statement was clear on two things: they will be launching a mobile video calling service as well as a standard Android app this year. That’s not surprising considering that they already offer Skype Mobile for Nokia’s Maemo and Symbian devices plus the WiFi-only version for the Apple iPhone. Unfortunately, the current set of Skype Mobile apps all have tragic restrictions. Even Verizon’s Skype Mobile app doesn’t let customers place domestic VoIP calls using Skype’s $3 per month unlimited calling plan (North America). It only offers free Skype-to-Skype voice calls, instant messaging, and discounted international calling rates. I’m definitely excited to see what Skype’s team has in store for this year given a little more freedom, but I truly hope they take full advantage of the potential provided in the latest generation of smartphone hardware and software.
Update 5/28/10 9:41AM: After a quick phone call from Skype’s PR team early this morning, it looks like they may have pulled the trigger a bit too soon with this comment. According to Reynaud, Skype will definitely be releasing a “direct-to-consumer” Android App this year, however the aren’t completely disclosing whether mobile video calling is an included feature.