December 3, 2010 | by Andrew Kameka
Skype is a leader in video chat, but it hasn’t been available on Android since the company’s spat with third-party client Fring. After Nimbuzz was asked to remove Skype from its application months later, I suggested that Skype was embracing a business strategy built on control and exclusivity.
Could mobile video chat be part of that strategy?
GigaOM Mobile’s Ryan Lawler reports that Skype is adding 20-30 members to its mobile engineering team, though the company obviously didn’t reveal why. But Lawler, like any sane person would, can’t help but suggest that this could be Skype adding manpower to build video chat into its mobile applications.
Skype video chat is an in-demand service, with 4 out of 10 calls on the desktop being video-based. However, the absence of a video chat client has become increasingly frustrating in an era where front-facing cameras are appearing on popular smartphones. A video demo I made of Skype mobile-to-desktop amassed more than 100,000 views, and the Androinica YouTube account has been cluttered with comments and messages from people asking how to do it since Fring was blocked from accessing Skype.
The recent wave of hiring could just be that Skype needs more people to increase compatibility of its voice-calling apps. The Android version is currently inaccessible to about 17% of Android users, and there is currently no app for Windows Phone 7. But it’s also possible that Skype recognized the growing demand and potential value of mobile video calling. Hiring 20 new engineers could accelerate Skype’s attempt to catch-up to Fuze, Yahoo! and other competitors.
Skype claimed back in May that it planned to “set the bar” on video calls and do it this year, but the clock is running out. Let’s hope they meet their timeline.