Skype has finally become a real contender in the mobile video calling market, adding the ability to make video calls to any other Skype user on the iPhone and iPad -- without a lot of fanfare, actually.
Skype users have been waiting for the update for quite a while, and it was especially painful because other video calling apps, most notably Apple’s (AAPL) native FaceTime service, have been picking up Skype’s slack. But the change adds a lot of much-needed functionality to the service: Skype users on the iPhone can make video calls even to Microsoft (MSFT) Windows users as well as other smartphones, although phones running Google’s (GOOG) Android phone are left out because many lack the camera functionality.
Another big plus is the ability to make those video calls regardless of what kind of Internet connection you’re using. FaceTime calls are limited to a Wi-Fi connection, which pushes Skype ahead of the game in that sense, because the app will make calls to PCs or other mobile devices over 3G. Wi-Fi is generally better, but at least the option is available.
In another interesting addition, Skype works with some older generation iPhones and iPods. A 3GS can handle video calling on Skype, although, since there’s only the rear-facing camera, you’d have to use it for your end of the conversation. On an iPhone 4, you can switch between cameras.
Trouble in China
It’s not all good news in Skypetown, however. China has banned the service altogether, according to a report from the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph.
In fact, China went a step further and banned all Internet phone calls, unless they were made on the China Unicom and China Telecom networks, both of which are state-owned. Its ruling effectively leaves Skype in the cold, joining other banned Western sites and services like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Google has also shut down its servers in the country following government pressure.
Skype issued a statement directing China users to its partner, Tom Online, but there’s speculation that that service won’t last long under the ban, as well. It might not be too much of a concern either way, however -- The Telegraph’s story quotes experts who think China will have a really tough time enforcing any kind of ban on Skype. Users can always just download Skype, or any other Internet phone program (of which there are a lot), from websites outside the country.
And, as a Beijing University professor pointed out to The Telegraph, lots of students studying abroad, including the children of Chinese government officials, use the free Skype service to make video calls home over the Internet. This makes it unlikely the government will be shutting Skype down altogether. Instead, it means some kind of compromise, or maybe more government presence in Tom Online, could be in the future.