Today I called Alec Saunders via Skype. Not terribly unusual, really... except that I initiated the Skype call from my Blackberry! Back on Monday, Jim Courtney over at Skype Journal had posted a teaser about an application for the Blackberry that allowed you to use Skype IM. Today my curiosity got the better of me and I had to IM Jim to get the info. I downloaded the app and promptly had to try it out... I guess by virtue of Alec being at the top of my contact list, he was my victim (I also know from past experience that he's open to this kind of thing).
Tonight Jim has spilled the goods for all of us in the post rather dramatically titled "Skype on the Blackberry - A New Era in the AlwaysOn World". It turns out to be an application called "IM+ for Skype" from a company called ShapeServices, which makes a variety of software products for PDAs (and specifically Blackberries). It turns out there was a news release about this back on May 7th, but I didn't see any coverage of this at all. The app itself costs $25, but you can also download it and use it for a free 7-day trial.
Blackberry users can even download it directly for Over-The-Air installation from wap.shapeservices.com.
The app itself seemed like other IM programs I've tried for the Blackberry. Very easy to create chats. See the chats in progress. Get a notification vibration/beep when new chats arrive. You first naturally give it your Skype username and password and it (slowly) loads in your contact list and shows the presence of all of your contacts. After that, it's rather like a Skype client. You can scroll through your contact list, open up chats, initiate calls, etc.
The calls are interesting. I was initially expecting it to be a true VoIP client and initiate the call via Skype over the data connection from the Blackberry. I wondered how well this would work given the generally limited quality/speed of the data connection. It turns out that it doesn't work that way. The data connection is used by the IM+ app to initiate the call, but the actual voice connection occurs over your phone's regular mobile connection.
So when I called Alec, my phone actually rang and I answered it. From Alec's perspective using Skype on his PC, he was placed into a conference call with "Dan York" and then a SkypeOut call to my cell phone. What's curious to me is that I don't quite understand where the other party was that was making the conf call happen. It wasn't on Skype on my PC. I can't imagine the Blackberry could actually be doing the conf call... so where was it? A PC (virtual or otherwise) back at Shape Services? I don't know... but I will say that it worked.
From a cost perspective, I have the Skype Unlimited calling plan, so the call to my cell phone was free from a Skype point-of-view. I have an unlimited data plan for my BB so there was no cost there. Obviously there was an airtime cost for the connection to my BB... but that was it. Now obviously I could also use it to make SkypeOut calls to other numbers, at which point it is becoming much like one of the call-back services like Jajah.
Interesting app... we'll see if I actually use it much. My past experience with IM clients on the Blackberry is that if they are left running in the background they tend to eat the battery up very quickly. Still, I could see me using it when traveling and wanting to IM someone or find out their Skype presence. Will I make actual Skype calls with it? I'm not sure.
What do you think? Would you use it? For Skype IM? Calls? Or both? Is it a "New Era in the AlwaysOn World"? (Would you pay the $25?)
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