Skype, still in the midst of being swallowed up by Microsoft,(s MSFT) just announced that video chat is finally coming to Android devices,(s GOOG) though only to a limited selection of devices so far. The feature is part of a big update for the Android app that includes a UI redesign that adds usability to the app.
The video chat feature will only work initially on Nexus S, HTC desire S, Sony Ericsson Xperia neo (s eric) and Sony Ericsson Xperia pro. If you have one of those devices, you can two-way video call with other Skype users on other platforms such as iOS (s AAPL), Mac or Windows. That is, at least in theory. I had trouble connecting an iPhone 4 with a Sprint (s s) Nexus S for a video call. As on iOS, it works over both cellular and Wi-Fi (when it is working). You can toggle between cameras and camera views, position your preview window and mute the video.
With the app redesign, you get a new menu and the ability to update your status right at the top. By syncing your Skype contacts with your phone, you can make a video call from your phone contacts list. It’s too bad that the Skype service is limited to so few Android devices right now. But video calling will get more useful as support expands to more Android phones.
This is another important step for Skype as it aims to become a ubiquitous communications service. It’s got a solid service on iOS, including a new iPad app, and it’s working its way into the living room. But Android is the fastest-growing smartphone platform, and it represents a big opportunity, especially as people look to make more cross-platform video calls.
Rivals such as Tango,
Qik, Oovoo and Fring have already been doing cross-platform video calls, and Fring and Oovoo have started pushing group mobile video chats. Google is also pushing the edge on its new Google+ service, which makes video conferencing easy with its Hangout feature, which could eventually make its way to mobile.