The Hype for Skype
The Intertubes are ablaze with rumblings that Microsoft's Skype division might be planning a significant VoIP counter-attack to Google Voice, and more specifically Google+ Hangouts (with its free online video chat for up to 10 users).
Google Voice came out in 2009 as a pedigreed contender to the popular VoIP service Skype, which by 2009 had already been around for 6 years. (Those half-dozen years practically makes Skype a dinosaur on the Interwebs.)
Ok, technically Google Voice is not VoIP. Still, Google Voice (with its one number philosophy) took a good bite out of Skype's well-established user base. And then with last summer's newcomer Google+ Hangouts competing directly with Skype's online video chat service... Clearly, the gauntlet had been thrown down.
Today, it seems the challenge has been accepted by Skype.
Microsoft Takes the Helm
Well, more specifically, the challenge has been accepted by Microsoft. Microsoft bought leading VoIP service and softphone provider Skype — and its 663 million registered users — in 2011 for $8.5 billion (which makes Facebook's recent $1 billion purchase of Instagram look like chump change).
This week's Microsoft job listings indicate that the software giant might actually be considering a non-softphone-accessed version of the popular VoIP calling service. Yes, a browser-based, no-download-required way to Skype from any Internet-connected computer or smartphone. Finally!
The Internet Rumor Mill
The rumors began with a series of ads (4 at last count) for software development engineers in Prague and London:
Team at Skype is looking for passionate, team-oriented and self-motivated developers to help us bring Skype experience on to the Web. You will have a chance to integrate existing Skype solutions on to the web with the support of the backend services build from the ground up using latest Microsoft technologies. Result of your work will be used by hundreds millions of thankful users worldwide.
Aside from the promise of bringing the "the Skype experience on to the Web," one of the qualifications that has tongues wagging is the "essential" requirement of HTML5 familiarity:
By making efforts to accommodate HTML5, the Skype division seems to be making a broad, welcoming gesture toward Safari browsers and the iOS segment of the smartphone/tablet market. (That seems sort of contrary to the typical gesture Microsoft makes toward Apple consumers.)
Breaking the Barriers to Adoption
All in all, a browser-based Skype app can only be good news. Anything that makes a product simpler and more accessible is generally good. And what could be simpler than a web-based Skype app?
In fact, the old-school softphone installation might be considered the last remaining barrier to Skype use for many — although frankly, even my mother Skypes. (Not to knock her — she's actually pretty savvy for her age — but I do consider 'my mother can do it' to be a fairly accurate barometer for ease-of-use.)
Still, with over 600 million users and more and more VoIP competitors springing up every day, the question of whether market saturation by softphone has been reached is surely an issue. Moving beyond softphone access is clearly the next logical step to improved market penetration. A web-based Skype app will be perfect for users without permissions to download and install apps — patrons of Internet cafes worldwide, for instance.
However, many might say it's a long time coming — and many more might say it's too little, too late: Google+ Hangouts may already have eroded the market substantially.
Of course, that's an awful lot of speculation to have been set in motion by a couple of ads... But since when has that stopped anyone on the Internet?!