As of yesterday, the iPhone natively supports VoIP calls without jailbreaking thanks to fring, a multi-client instant messaging application with Skype, Skype-out, fring and other SIP support for voice calling.
Fring has previously been available on Symbian and WinMo phones, and for jailbroken iPhones. It supports IM through fring, AIM, MSN, Yahoo, Skype, Twitter, and ICQ over all connections (EDGE, 3G, GPRS and WiFi). In order to use the VoIP functions, however, you must have an active WiFi connection. This limitation is in keeping with Steve Jobs’ earlier statement that “We’ll limit [VOIP applications] over the cellular network”, made when the iPhone SDK was originally announced.
I took fring for a brief test drive shortly after it was announced (although I had a nail-biting wait for it to appear in my iPhone’s App Store since I feared another NetShare type disappearing act). Though it required a fring account sign-up (normally a pet peeve of mine when it comes to iPhone apps), the process was quick and painless and within seconds I was presented with an add-on selection screen with a list of supported IM and VoIP services.
At this point I was really only interested in Skype, so I selected that option and was prompted for my login information. Here, the application threatened to disappoint, since after entering my Skype username and password it seemed to hang. So much so that I restarted the process twice, but maybe I’m just impatient. On the third try I just left it for a while, and it eventually connected and recognized my contacts without any further problems.
After a brief test call with the British-accented fring demo-bot confirmed that we were firing on all cylinders, I picked a friend at random for a true trial. Despite sounding a little like I and my friend were on speakerphone (we weren’t) the app performed well. So well, in fact, that I’m considering finally ditching my barely used (but expensive) landline once and for all. The true test will come the next time I have to call home to bemoan life’s unfairness to my parents and try to cajole them into sending money so that the power company doesn’t shut off my electricity again.
Fring is available in the App Store now for the magical price of free.