It comes as no surprise that Skype's newly released iPhone application topped 1 million downloads from Apple's App Store in less than two days. The free app delivers the core capabilities of the desktop application to the hugely popular handset, including crisp and clear calls to Skype members on landline or mobile phones--provided you're using a Wi-Fi network--as well as instant messaging. (The application will work on any second-generation iPod touch with a compatible headset and microphone.) Still missing is the ability to make conference calls and buy credit from the application itself, but for a first-generation software release, it hits all the marks.
Skype has carried over the bright and bubbly aesthetic of its desktop application to the iPhone's screen. The interface is simple to navigate and is centralized to the five-tab (Contacts, Chats, Call, History, Info) navigation bar at the bottom of the app.
Skype's call panel mimics the iPhone's large button layout and, intelligently, has a button for accessing the phone's main contact list so you can make calls to regular mobile or landline numbers. The history tab shows your past calls and chats, and users can edit their Skype profiles under the My Info feature.
When viewing our contacts list, we could consolidate it to online contacts only, and selecting a contact shows more than just a simple profile; Skype for iPhone includes contacts' information and image if available. Switching to instant messaging chats in the interface is easy; the most recent chats--including those started on a PC--are listed, and a small icon pops up on the bottom navigation bar to alert you to a new message. While we were able to continue conversing on the phone in a group chat that was started on a PC, we were unable to initiate a group chat from the iPhone.
Clear Calls Over Wi-Fi
Skype for iPhone requires a Wi-Fi connection to make free Skype-to-Skype calls or low-cost calls to mobiles and landlines. Just like the desktop program, users will not be charged by Skype for making and receiving Skype-to-Skype calls using an iPhone or iPod touch, but normal Skype rates apply for calling a landline or mobile phone. When we attempted to make a call using the iPhone's cellular connection, an on-screen message appeared, telling us the action was not permitted. However, when connected to AT&T's 3G or EDGE cellular network you can send and receive instant messages within Skype.
When connected to our office wireless network with a full signal, calling a family member who was logged into Skype on her MacBook made for a clear conversation. There was no apparent lag during our 15-minute chat, and she claimed to hear our voice better than over a regular cellular call on AT&T's network; we heard no echo or tinniness, either. Similarly, when we called a landline to make reservations at a restaurant, the call sounded crisp, and we didn't have to repeat ourselves. Calling a friend who was logged into the Skype application on his iPhone offered similar quality; we could hear his voice even among the sounds of the television studio he was in.
There are a few missing features from Skype's iPhone application, including the inability to initiate conference calls. You cannot add another caller to your call as you can through the desktop software. Additionally, there is no easy way to purchase more calling credits from the application itself. You either have to buy additional Skype credit from the iPhone's Safari browser or through a computer. There is no video-call functionality, either; leaving the iPhone still without any existing video call support.
Skype for iPhone Verdict
Skype succeeds in creating a solid Internet-calling application for Apple's iPhone and iPod touch. Those who find themselves in Wi-Fi hotspots and want to make free or cheap calls will be pleased by its quality and ease of use. Although we'd like to see the ability to make calls over 3G added, there's no reason why you shouldn't be one of the millions to try this compelling app.