Skype dips another toe in the mainstream consumer electronics pool today: Om Malik breaks the news that WalMart will carry nine Skype hardware devices. Unlike a limited run or pilot program, the Skype units will become available in all WalMart locations; my assumption being: all U.S. locations. The juggernaut retailer will also sell Skype pre-paid cards for service in $20 denominations. Even with my heavy-duty Skype use, that would cover me for a good year.
While I’m sure this move will help Skype’s revenues, I still believe that the third-party Skype devices on the market need to drop in price. We’ve reviewed the Netgear SPH-101 Skype WiFi handset and while it worked well, I don’t see most consumers dropping $150, $200 or more for a handset that can’t be used for E-911 calls or can be tricky (if not unusable) in a WiFi hotspot that requires authentication through a browser. If the handsets can be had for $99 (or less) and be used in more locations, Skype will find quicker consumer adoption and faster revenue growth in my opinion.
It wouldn’t hurt to have device demos via SkypeOut and a small wireless network in those WalMarts either, but that’s not the typical approach I’ve seen for any product in WalMart. Hey Skype folks: if you want me to set up a kiosk to give it a go, just give me a shout. If WalMart can provide me the WLAN, I’ll even bring my own router for the demos.
Update: the official company press release just became available. My quick read indicates that WalMart will be offering low-cost Skype-certified items, such as headsets, webcams and handsets starting in the $15 – $30 price range. No mention of the more expensive items like wireless handsets.