First Looks: Skype for iPhone

Skype for iPhone is due to be announced at CTIA 2009 on Tuesday morning.

The world’s busiest long distance service provider and its new partner Apple helpfully made the free Skype for iPhone app available for download via the iTunes AppStore (opens iTunes) Monday night, and a quick lap around the track implies quite an upgrade to iPhone’s voice functionality.

Simply logging in with a user’s current Skype username and password automatically populates the mobile apps’ database with contacts, recent call history, and account information including avatar image, profile information, Skype Credit account balances, Online number information and voicemail history.

Making a call to a Skype friend is as easy and intuitive as it is from the familiar PC interface, and the sound quality on a connected call is equal to that using a headset on a PC, especially when using a headset with mic attached to the iPhone or iPod Touch.

It should be noted that Skype voice calls are dependent on the initiating caller having a strong and stable WiFi connection to place and maintain the call. Weak or intermittent WiFi connectivity will downgrade call quality and easily lead to dropped calls, and Skype will not in any way access or rely on the cell network to complete or maintain voice calls.

Another issue some may have yet to consider in championing the arrival of Skype as a watershed in mobile VoIP calling is the limitation imposed by Apple’s mobile OS that prevents more than one app from running at a time.

Should an iPhone user be engaged in a Skype call when a normal cell phone call comes in, the WiFi connection will be broken, and the Skype call automatically dropped as the cell call rings in. Absent the ability to place an iPhone in “Do Not Disturb” mode, this will remain a persistent potential problem for those relying on the iPhone’s ability to deliver voice over WiFi.

Otherwise, at first blush, Skype appears to have delivered a seamless integration of its PC-based application for making calls over IP networks.

More details will come to light as hundreds of millions of Skype users begin to make and receive calls using iPhone and iPod Touch.

It will be interesting, as well, to see how the introduction of iPhone 3.0 operating software, due this coming summer with its promise of push notification may affect Skype for iPhone’s usability.