Skype, the Internet calling service owned by eBay, is expected to announce an application for the iPhone at next week's wireless CTIA tradeshow in Las Vegas, according to tech blogger Om Malik of GigaOM.
Skype is keeping mum on the announcement and has declined to comment on the rumors. But the company is hosting a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Las Vegas the day before the show kicks off. And it's likely the news will be announced there.
Skype admitted earlier this year that it's working on an application for the iPhone. Scott Durchslag, the company's chief operating officer, said at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January that an iPhone version of the software client would be coming to Apple's App Store.
"We have to make sure the call quality is there and the application works really well before we can announce the software for any device," he said in an interview after the company's press conference. "But we will have something for the iPhone as soon as it's perfect."
Skype sees mobile as the next major growth area for its business. Not only does it expect its more than 405 million registered users to take their Skype experience, which offers free and low-cost calling, with them on-the-go, but the company also believes they will be able to reach new users via mobile devices. By putting the peer-to-peer service, which uses the Internet to carry voice traffic, onto a mobile phone, it becomes very convenient to use. The regular Skype service runs on a computer and requires either a special phone or a headset and microphone to make and receive phone calls.
In the U.S. most cell phone plans include domestic long-distance calling as part of a bundle of minutes, so the Skype service isn't really that appealing. But for subscribers calling outside the U.S., rates can be as much as a $2 a minute if cell phone users don't subscribe to a special monthly plan for making international calls. This makes the Skype mobile client most appealing to users who want to make inexpensive international calls, but don't want to be tied to their computers.
A software version of Skype already exists for Windows Mobile phones. Nokia also plans to embed some of its phones with Skype clients. And Skype has worked with a company called iSkoot to develop a special Skype phone that is sold by the cell phone operator Hutchison 3 U.K. A Skype-lite version of the client is also available on some Java phones.
Now, iPhone users will get to use Skype, too. But before iPhone users get too excited, there's probably a big catch. The new Skype app for the iPhone will likely be restricted to Wi-Fi networks only, as Apple has done to other third-party services like Fring, which offers access to Skype.
If this is the case, it will be a huge limitation to the usefulness of the service. While other mobile phone users can use the Skype service anywhere they can a cell phone signal, iPhone users will be restricted to only using it where they can access Wi-Fi. Most people access Wi-Fi home or in the office, where they're likely to be near a computer anyway.