For the first time in a long while it almost appears Skype is on a trajectory to really change the world. It took Apple rather than Skype to figure it out. While Apple dragged their feet on early VoIP apps running in the background they built up a user base that can potentially carry Skype or a competitor anywhere.
Apple has sold 50 million iPhone’s so far. As I look now at my Skype client there are currently 19.5 million online. I’m sure it was higher earlier today. Now imagine a world not six years out but six months out. 30 million 3GS users upgrade to iPhone 4.0 the operating system that is coming later this year that enables background Skype. In the next year there’s a good chance that the next generation iPhone will sell another 50 million. Skype’s supposed to work over 3G too. So we’re not years away from a time when 100 million people can run Skype at all times on their mobile. The real impact of Iphone 4.0 is it will almost instantly double the number of Skype Users online. International and un-minuted calls will remain the biggest driver.
So where does this leave telecom? Or you personally? What action would you / should you take before you agree your next contract and lock-in with ATT? In fact – how will ATT want to screw you? Will data prices go up? What is the implications for the fee structure? With background apps and $30/mth 3G my iPad may become cheaper than the Phone to carry around although too big for my pocket. (Will we ever see a Touch with the same deal?) And what should I do when all I want is a phone that is not locked to AT&T.
Where does this leave Skype’s competitors? What should the competitors be doing prior to the iPhone 4.0 launch. Skype is not alone here. I doubt that there is one iPhone with Skype on it – that doesn’t have Facebook. Facebook is a better profile and directory service. It is a better status system. It is better re friends etc. Will users ever see it as a place to make or initiate calls from? Facebook enables free calling to all members…
Then many iPhone users are also LinkedIn users given that business skew. What should LinkedIn do about Telephony? Or not? This also leaves Apple’s evil friend Google unmentioned. Where does GoogleVoice fit in all of this? Obviously no problem running a Gizmo client on the iPhone. Then there is Yahoo. Have you used the Yahoo client on the iPhone? The messaging and notification features are good, could it be upgraded? Is there a battle brewing here between the “name” and the “number”? What opportunities re “flow” and the social networking services exist?
Then there are programmatic ways that VoIP could become more interesting. Eg which apps will open Skype or another VoIP app. Is it possible for an app to request or check that you have a VoIP client running in the background and simply piggyback on it. Eg.. it is a channel and the app manages the exchange. That maintains my gaming profile while using any VoIP line I have available. From the little that was said I doubt anything other than a naked Skype will run concurrently with an app.
This also leaves open an important area. Skype chat in the background would be great. However I will probably want some “group” management on who can ring. (They are half way there). There’s actually no reason why I can’t also run GoogleVoice via Gizmo or a SIP client concurrently in the background. In other words there are many ways for me to add channels. In fact working on VoIP for iPhone with an agnostic approach and choose your identity would be just awesome. Think I have it half done in my mind already.
I’m thinking I just need an app for that. When my Game calls I want the gaming profile, when the date calls I want my dating profile, when the recruiter calls I want my linked in profile. All these services benefit when voice is just part of the escalation. There’s a need in each case to provide a chat/text element. Context is important. It may be all that is required. Still those chat elements are better served when they relate to appropriate “profile(s)” for the exchange. There are plenty of multi-account chat clients already available on the iPhone. Can they master the voice element effectively and join the field?
Unfortunately this means… VoIP on the iPhone is really just a dumb pipe. What’s important is the CallerID. Rich CallerID’s will get you more. Unless I know you.. your Skype name is useless to me. You profile may help although without context you get a block, or ignore etc. By contrast a Facebook call request from a friend of a friend with some context or equally a Twitter talk request (remember Phweet anyone!) may be a better way to complete that call. Similarly, if you are a business and I want a reservation by OpenTable. I put in a request. How should you present that call back to me? Equally I have a problem with Comcast. How should that Tweet be presented? If I’ve had nothing and been on the line for 20 minutes with my health care provider…. In fact for all those services. Ask yourself if you are willing to add to your account details.. my preferred callerID. Should that co be a Facebook Fan like page… or a TwitterID or something else? I could add all the details and implications for location based VoIP too. “BluetoothBarRoulette” anyone?
While we are on this. Better ask you? What will that caller ID do? When that Skype call comes in. Can I touch it and reveal a profile, touch again and see status updates, touch again to see my call history with you? If Skype can’t do it. Will Google? The service that wins will bring in public and private call records and exchanges. The apps need a gesture approach. All to date are far too static. The iPad will be a useful partner for testing and developing these types of solutions concurrently. An iPad may be the cheapest distributed call center app ever in a few months.
In the end I may keep Skype around in the background just for the neat multi-chats. It may look like it is game over for everyone else when Steve demo’s Skype on the iPhone. I think it is far from over.
I doubt the operators can act fast enough to address the opportunity. If you were AT&T what would you do? To me that is obvious and I mentioned it in passing above. If you are T-Mobile what would you do? Why not create an app for the iPhone and route “free unlimited calling to ATT iPhone users” into all your plans. Good acquisition strategy for them.
I think AT&T will launch a new flat-rate unlimited use plan with the next iPhone. I suspect it will cost more. That rolling over on a contract may not be ah..appetizing. However, it becomes interesting when AT&T gets an exclusive for another 12 months. If they cut their rates – $50 unlimited everything in network and PSTN then they would clean up. That is also highly unlikely.