Skype video chat on iPad app moves Microsoft closer to Apple

Optimized Skype for iPad app to surface Tuesday; could make Apple a part of Windows Live, analysts say

Skype is reportedly set to release a video chat app optimized for Apple's iPad even as the maker of video and voice products is on tap to be acquired by Microsoft for $8.5 billion.

Analysts are taking note that Microsoft, the classic Apple competitor, is indirectly ingratiating itself with Apple's industry-leading tablet computer. It's been widely reported that the Skype app will be available in iTunes starting Tuesday.

"It's interesting that this app puts Microsoft on the iPad --- potentially," noted Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "MicroSkype takes a bite of the Apple."

The Skype video chat app for iPad alone might not be a big concern for Apple, though it does give Microsoft a foot into the Apple door, he said.

In fact, the app could mean that Apple, in effect, will become a component of the Microsoft Windows Live suite that includes everything from IM to email, Gold said. "Live is directly competitive to what Apple is doing," Gold noted.

In the computing industry, stranger things have happened as large companies invariably compete and cooperate with rivals. In fact, years ago industry insiders coined the term "co-opetition" as the trend took hold.

Apple's motivation to allow a Skype video app for iPad to be available in iTunes isn't hard to figure out, some analysts noted.

Skype is enormously popular worldwide, with some 30 million simultaneous users of its voice and video tools at peak times, and an average of 145 million connected users per month in the fourth quarter of 2010, according to Skype's Web site.

A popular app on a popular tablet can only help the tablet, the reasoning goes, while reviewers note that video chat on a tablet is arguably more compelling than on a smaller smartphone.

A further irony is that the Skype for iPad app would compete with Apple's own FaceTime video chat product, which works in Wi-Fi only.

Skype for iPad will be workable in both Wi-Fi and 3G, although an early CNET review said the Skype video chat is clear in Wi-Fi and "often less crisp chat over 3G." The reviewer also noted that calling via Skype video from an iPad to an iPhone resulted in frequent freezes.

The new app even works on the original iPad with its single camera that allows videoconferencing input, not output, as the two cameras allow on the iPad 2.

Another major advantage of the Skype product is that it allows video calls to other Skype users running any mobile device or desktop system. With Apple's FaceTime, users are restricted to the Apple platform.

Skype also offers iPhone-based video chat software for the iPad, but the older product isn't optimized for the Apple tablet's 9.7-in. screen size. Skype mistakenly posted a YouTube video describing the new iPad app last week. The iPad video has survived on some Web sites, although apparently without sound.

Skype's user forum has included posts calling for a native iPad video chat app. User Erick van der Neut said such a product would be "The killer app on the iPad."

And blogger Dan O'Shea of FierceVoIP declared in a blog post: "Face it: Video chat is iPad's killer app." O'Shea called Skype's rollout of the iPad product "the latest move in the broader evolution to video chat."

O'Shea also referenced Microsoft's pending acquisition of Skype, saying the rollout of the iPad video chat app could prove to quiet some critics of the Microsoft takeover.

"Recently, it seems Microsoft is getting blamed for anything up to and including the wind blowing the wrong direction at at Skype's HQ," he said. "But perhaps Skype's iPad offering will show that nothing is stopping the global VoIP (Voice over IP) juggernaut from helping to drive the next era in communications."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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