Blog Post

How Skype Could Make the Mobile Video Market Explode

Skype appears poised to finally launch a new mobile video chat service that should shake up the space and help propel mobile video conferencing into the mainstream. The communications platform, still fresh off its 24-hour outage, is expected to unveil a mobile video offering next week at CES and has been recently teasing what the service could look like.

Indeed, over the last few days, Skype has been hinting on its Twitter account at what’s next, pointing to a page with videos entitled, “I wish I could share moments like these.” The videos are shot on what appear to be mobile devices and suggest that Skype is prepared to help people broadcast their lives remotely through video. This comes after Skype briefly released and then pulled a help document showing how users could make video calls with an iPhone (s aapl) — running iOS 4.0 or above — using Wi-Fi or 3G. Skype is also scheduled to participate in a CES panel called, “Video Calling Gets Ready for Primetime.”

So the pieces are falling into place for Skype to fully enter the mobile video chat space, which was catalyzed by the release of Apple’s FaceTime feature for the iPhone 4. This won’t be Skype’s first entry into mobile video, however; it released video chat support on the Nokia (s nok) N900, but this would appear to be Skype’s big launch on mainstream mobile devices. Though it’s behind in the mobile video game and will be chasing competitors like Fring, Qik, Tango and Yahoo (s yhoo), not to mention Apple, Skype has the tools in place to help kick mobile video chatting into high gear.

Skype had 560 million members at the end of last year when it was still reporting its user numbers and has been steadily growing, with video conferencing playing a larger role in communications. Now, 40 percent of Skype calls are conducted over video, and at peak times, there are 25 million people on Skype. That’s a huge network of users who are used to video chatting. If Skype can bring that functionality to a number of mobile platforms simultaneously or in quick succession, it could leverage its scale to become the go-to provider for mobile video chat.

While mobile video chatting has grown in popularity, it’s still mired in limitations that prevent it from being widely embraced, however. Apple’s FaceTime works on the iPhone 4, the latest iPod touch and is now available in beta on Macs. But despite Apple’s promise to open up the technology to other service providers, it remains a closed network and is limited to Wi-Fi only on mobile devices. Meanwhile, competitors like Qik and Tango are limited to mobile phones, and don’t communicate with PCs and Macs. Yahoo entered the race with its own cross-platform mobile chat offering, but so far it works only on a few Android (s goog) devices. Fring tried to leverage Skype’s network for video calls, but was shut down by Skype, which said Fring was not upholding its licensing agreement. The dust-up between Skype and Fring, which prompted accusations from both sides, illustrated the power of using Skype’s network for video calls: Fring’s capacity was overloaded with the addition of the iPhone 4.

The opportunity is still there for Skype to define this space, provided it nails the execution. It has a huge base of people who already video chat from their computers, and it’s pushing into enabling video chatting from TVs in the living room. Connecting its existing members to mobile phone users would illustrate the power of mobile video chat and help to convince computer-bound video conferencing users to splurge on one of the few but growing number of devices outfitted with cameras needed for two-way video chat. From the help document, Skype video chat can also work on phones with just one camera, allowing consumers to share the world around them on video. That is not the full experience of a face-to-face conversation, but providing support to those devices would also widen the number of phones that can use Skype video calls. A big push by Skype could help mobile video chatting exceed the modest forecast of 29 million users by 2015 by Juniper Research, which said interoperability issues would hamper wider adoption.

Even with Skype’s wide reach, Apple still has a chance to set the standard for mobile video calling. Steve Jobs said this past summer that Apple would publish open specifications for FaceTime, enabling other providers to build in FaceTime interoperability. But so far, that hasn’t happened. It’s unlikely that Skype’s distributed P2P network architecture would interoperate with FaceTime anyway. So this is Skype’s chance to lead on its own and help define what mobile video chatting can become.

I’m personally a fan of video chat services, but the fragmentation between providers limits its usefulness to me. If Skype goes big with a mobile video client on iOS and Android (s goog) and later other platforms, I could see myself relying on it primarily for video chats. With more phones and tablets expected to ship with two cameras next year and the option to connect to more TV-based Skype clients, 2011 may be the perfect time for Skype to finally get its mobile video chat business in order.

17 Responses to “How Skype Could Make the Mobile Video Market Explode”

  1. Mobile video would be nice to have, just as screen sharing and group video calling are nice features, what we really need is some way to leave VIDEO MESSAGES for people when they are not online, in the same way that the (paid) Voicemail feature allows us to leave voice messages.

    Think about the way that we use video calling – true, the main use is face-to-face realtime conversation, but there are so many situations in which leaving a message would be more useful – people aren’t always available to take your call, but you might want to leave a message and show them something anyway.

    Also, being able to replay a video message whenever you want would be emotionally powerful – think of a father, away on a business trip, replaying the video message his children left him earlier in the day while he was working. Apple seem to understand the importance of emotional appeal, so, Skype need to get on top of this missing feature before they find themselves relegated to 2nd place.

    I sincerely hope that is what all this “I wish I could share moments like these” stuff is actually about – if it is just marketing spin for the mobile version of same limited video service we get on the desktop, it will be a serious missed opportunity.

      • Tokbox did have proper video messaging but got rid of the feature back in July, much to the annoyance of the deaf community among whom it had been a big hit.

        They claimed that they wanted to focus on their core feature, video conferencing. I don’t understand why they didn’t spin off the video messaging as a separate product, seemed to be a waste of an existing audience, but presumably they had their reasons.

      • Eyejot is a perfect example of a company that, way back in 2007, almost – very, very almost – got it right.

        I watched them closely because I figured that, any day now, they would suddenly realize how big an opportunity they had just inches away but, instead they made exactly the same mistake that torpedoed Seesmic’s video comments product: they failed to focus on simple usability and overcomplicated their product.

        Instead of providing an embeddable website widget with a nice, big, bright red record button and nothing else, they became obsessed with getting people to sign up – of course, the number of signed-up members was considered to be an important major metric of success at the time, meaningless really but it seemed to reassure investors.

        So, instead of that simple big red button, they forced people to jump through hoops before being able to start recording, completely killing the spontaneity and giving people a reason to change their minds and not bother – who the Hell wanted to sign up to yet another website?

        It was a damn shame that so many companies couldn’t see what was right in front of them all the time, if they had only had the guts to keep it ruthlessly simple. They all took on millions in funding and they are all pretty much dead now. Some people claim that Steve Jobs gets too much credit for what he does but what he actually deserves credit for is what he DOESN’T do, for having the guts and discipline to be minimalistic.

  2. Lucian Armasu

    I’m looking forward to native video-chat in Android phones and integration with Google Talk on PC’s. Also Google’s +1 social network (or w/e it is) is rumored to have 12 way video calls, too.