Skype is offering its Voice over Internet Protocol service to Android and Java-enabled mobile phones, and to Intel-based Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs). This is the first time the software has been released for mobile users in the U.S.
At the Consumer Electronics Show, Skype announced Thursday the release of a light beta version of Skype for Android and Java-based phones. Java-enabled phones include those from LG, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson.
The light version currently does not offer video calls. The capabilities include calls to other Skype users anywhere in the world, sending or receiving instant messages, and making low-rate calls to landline or mobile phones not on the Skype network. Users can also see when their Skype contacts are available online for chatting.
The MID version, also in beta, is for the new category of small consumer devices based on Intel's Atom processor and the Moblin-based Linux operating system. They offer four-to-seven-inch screens, an enhanced Internet experience, and, for some, WiMAX or 3G/4G connectivity.
While Skype on a PC uses an Internet connection, the company pointed out that the light version for mobile phones works where phones work, without needing a Wi-Fi connection. But users do need both calling and data plans from a wireless carrier.
This means the prospect for mobile phones to save on calls via Skype is more complicated than on computers. The company noted that, while the light version requires both air time and data usage, there are no charges for Skype-to-Skype calls or for instant messages to Skype friends. But national calling rates may apply.
'Tension' Between VoIP and Cell Plans
The Skype software is available worldwide, but the company noted that the ability to make Skype-to-Skype calls and low-cost calls to non-Skype landlines and mobile phones are presently only available in 10 countries -- the U.S., the UK, Poland, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo in Brazil, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Australia and New Zealand.
Michael Gartenberg, vice president for consumer strategy at Jupitermedia, pointed out that Skype on mobile devices doesn't necessarily mean carriers' voice plans are obsolete. He noted that it does, however, "illustrate the growing tension between VoIP and regular cell plans."
Gartenberg also said the mobile versions extend the Skype experience, eventually including video calls, that many users regularly have on their computers.