With the iPhone 4 finally in stores this week and the Droid X now completely unveiled, competition is starting to stir between Skype, Google and ultimately Apple itself over Internet-enabled mobile voice calling.
In a keynote speech at the CEA Line Shows in New York City this week, Skype’s Jonathan Christenson rolled out SkypeKit, a new software development kit (SDK) designed to make it possible for developers to quickly create voice and video apps running across multiple platforms of PCs, TVs, smartphones, and maybe even digital picture frames and wristwatches some day.
“We believe that every connected device can become a communications device, with the addition of SkypeKit,” according to Christenson, who is general manager of Skype’s Platform Business Unit.
“Think of SkypeKit as a ‘headless’ version of Skype – that is, a Skype client with no user interface that runs invisibly, not only on PCs, but also TVs, notebooks, and other connected devices,” he wrote in a blog on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Verizon and its partners Google, Motorola, and Adobe launched the Droid X, a heavily multimedia-intensive smartphone which happens to include an embedded client for Skype-to-Skype communications.
The Droid X’s Skype client is one of the upshots of a deal announced at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona last winter to provide Skype voice calling on Verizon phones running on both the RIM BlackBerry and Google’s Android platform.
Not to be left out of the equation, however, also this week, Google announced that Google Voice – previously available by invitation only – is now open to “the public,” meaning any Web user.
Google Voice offers Web-based connectivity through a single phone number to multiple other numbers, such as your cell phone number and your landline numbers for home and work. Other features include voicemail transcriptions; free calling and text messaging with the U.S. and Canada; low-priced international calling; call screening; and SMS-to-e-mail messaging, for instance.
Meanwhile, Skype also seems to be encountering some new found competition of sorts on the iPhone. Skype did produce a client app for Apple’s iPhone 3G. However, the new iPhone 4 includes it own Apple-created voice chat feature, known as FaceTime.
Granted, all of these emerging mobile VOIP (voice-over-IP) alternatives carry limitations. Right now, FaceTime is platform-specific to the iPhone 4 only, and it runs solely on WiFi. Google Voice is available only for US phone numbers – and beyond that, some users are reporting tons of inaccuracies with its voice-to-text transcription. For its part, SkypeKit has only just been launched into limited beta testing.
It’s going to take these companies a while to kick the tires and work out all the kinks. As one example, Apple doesn’t plan to add 3G connectivity to FaceTime until next year. Yet it does look as though, eventually, mobile users will have increasing numbers of viable options open to them for Internet-based voice calling.