eBay’s (EBAY) Internet phone company, Skype, is finally getting its service onto Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone. The company will announce the app Tuesday. This is a nice addition for iPhone owners that use Skype. But it’s not a significant threat to AT&T, the iPhone’s exclusive U.S. carrier.
To use Skype, you must be connected to a wi-fi hotspot. It will not work over AT&T’s data network. That limits its usefulness, and limits your mobility. People want the calling feature on their phone to just work, 100% of the time. That’s not this.
You can’t receive calls to your main number via Skype. Sure, you could potentially do a trick with Google Voice, where you get people to call a different number that rings both places. But that’s another Internet service to rely on, another potential point of failure, and more inconvenience.
You can’t receive calls on Skype unless the Skype app is open. That’s because iPhone apps do not run in the background — they’re only useful when they’re open. That means you have to message or talk with someone before they call you, and open your Skype app. Hardly as convenient as using a phone. You also can’t pop open another app, like the address book or calendar, to check on something — it’ll disconnect your Skype call.
You still have to pay your phone bill! For the iPhone, that’s a minimum $70 per month. ($40 for voice minutes and $30 for data.) Even if you cut back to the $70 plan from a more expensive plan, that’s still 40% more than the average AT&T subscriber spends on wireless service per month. Factor in $5 to $15 per month on text messaging, and you’re 50% to 60% above the average. And if you don’t use the minutes you pay for, that’s more profit for AT&T.
So: Will some people use Skype for international calling, long conference calls, or outgoing calls while sitting at a wi-fi hotspot? Sure. Will that be convenient and reliable enough for mainstream users to get rid of most of their mobile phone minutes? No.
That could change if Skype can someday make calls over AT&T’s data network. But for now, Skype on the iPhone will mainly be a feature-light, wi-fi-tethered version of Skype on the computer — not a complete replacement for your phone service. AT&T does not stand to lose significant revenue.