Skype just this week has released an update to it’s iOS app (moving to version 3.0) allowing for Skype-to-Skype video calling which continues to be free of charge. Apple earlier this year released a desktop client for their Facetime video conferencing service — a service which is also completely free. At this point, Facetime is available on only Apple devices (Mac & iOS). Only Mac laptops/desktops, the iPhone 4, and iPod touch (fourth gen.) are capable of Facetime. The next iPad which will likely debut in the first half of 2011, and is expected to also don Facetime capabilities.
In contrast, Skype is available on not only Macs, but Windows and Linux as well. Skype with video is also now available on all of the aforementioned iOS devices, and in the near future — perhaps as soon as CES 2011 — Android devices. Judging from the time spent showing off Facetime at Keynote events and in flashy ads; Apple likely sees the feature as one of iOS 4’s biggest claims to fame. If Skype can blow the doors off of mobile video conferencing by issuing updates on Android and other platforms, Apple has definitely got some work to do. By enabling video conferencing on iOS, Skype may have potentially leapfrogged Apple’s video calling feature.
From my personal experience comparing both the Skype and Facetime apps there are a few things to point out. Note, I’ve been testing the two apps between an iPhone 4 and an iMac for the past half of a day or so…
1) Call quality over Wi-fi is substantially better with Facetime. The video quality in terms of framerate and resolution is significantly higher in the Facetime app. Now while the Skype app yields somewhat useful video over Wi-fi, its 3G performance was only a bit worse — yet still useful. Keep in mind, Facetime on a non-jailbroken iOS device is impossible over 3G.
2) The one thing that Facetime in iOS will always hold over Skype’s head is the fact that the it’s baked into iOS. When you receive a Facetime call on an iOS device, the OS acts as if you’re receiving a normal POTS call from someone via another mobile phone or a landline phone. With Skype, this app must run in the background in iOS (and potentially kill precious battery life) if you want to be able to receive calls.
3) The desktop apps are both fairly lightweight. The thing is Facetime’s Mac app is only available on Mac OSX, while Skype can be installed on any of the three major desktop operating systems. Skype’s app also integrates chat, simple voice calling, and of course video calling. The same can also be said about the desktop versions of these apps regarding them running in the background. Facetime is definitely in unison with Mac OSX. If you have Facetime installed on your Mac, you can receive a call without having the app open and running. Facetime will simply start up when you’re getting a call, and close out afterwards if you miss the call. Skype on the other hand must be open and running to receive calls.
In my opinion, Skype on potentially every platform (including mobile) wins this race. Facetime is, and probably will only ever be available on Apple devices — both Mac and iOS. But there’s always 2011; and if anyone can come back packing a powerful enough punch for the competition, it’s probably Apple. But as slick and useful as Facetime is — or could potentially be — it’s number one drawback is its singularity on iOS. I think it’s safe to say that Facetime won’t be coming to a Windows machine near you…and it probably will never make it to an Android device. Apple can spend countless resources making Facetime more accessible on iOS devices by adding more cameras, and by fine-tuning the backend to improve voice and video quality. But if there’s no cross-platform jump planned in the future, it may be dead in the water. Services like Skype are here to stay, and it looks like they might be eating Apple’s lunch with this one.