As the overall market absorption of smartphones continues to rise, people—and developers—often forget that there are still millions of cell phone users that aren’t running on Android, iOS, or another smart phone operating system. In fact, those smartphones only make up a fraction of the market. While the growth rate for WiFi enabled, mega-pixel pumping, touch screen sporting smartphones are tremendous, many companies forget to develop for a well-established market. Fortunately, Skype, in partnership with Verizon Wireless, didn’t forget about those people with affordable feature phones. Earlier today, they launched a mobile app for phones running on BREW (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless).
The first set of Verizon Wireless 3G phones to support the Skype app will be the LG Chocolate Touch, Samsung Reality, and LG enV TOUCH, which we reviewed last year. While some Skype mobile iterations run on WiFi networks, the new BREW version runs entirely on Verizon’s 3G network. And that’s because those feature phones don’t have WiFi built in. Unfortunately, Verizon customers with only a calling and texting plan aren’t eligible for using Skype. Using the app requires either the 25MB / month data plan which goes for $10 / month or the unlimited $30 / month option. (We’re still awaiting word from Skype on whether using the app will drain the few megabytes of data offered to customers on the $10 monthly plan and we will post an update soon.)
For those that have one of the mentioned devices and a data plan, Skype will offer a few benefits. For instance, Skype-to-Skype calls are entirely free and customers can take advantage of discounted international call rates. Skype users with the BREW app can call Skype users whether they are on their PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, or another platform. Unfortunately, domestic calls to other mobile phones or landlines will continue to knock minutes off your calling plan.
For smartphones users, this news is pretty irrelevant, but LG enV TOUCH, LG Chocolate Touch, Samsung Reality are likely rejoicing. It’s probably only a matter of time before other BREW devices also get support for the app. And for those wondering, the app is entirely free. While these phones don’t have the bells and whistles of a smartphone, small additions that come around from time to time like these make a purchase worthwhile.
Editors Note: This article was co-written by Chris Tung and Sahas Katta
Update 8/19: We reached out to our friends at Skype for a comment on exactly how the app uses data. According to their spokesperson, voice calls will not consume any data. It is channeled through Verizon’s voice network. However, a data plan is required for the app because downloading the BREW app, loading the contact list, and sending/receiving chat messages will consume data. Fortunately, due to the partnership the consumed data is “zero rated” according to Skype’s representative. That means, despite a 25MB transfer cap for the $10 per monthly plan, Skype won’t eat up any extra data.