It may be somewhat hard to remember — what with sporadically poor call performance, lots of other hardware to play around with and all those apps — that the iPhone is more-or-less primarily a tool for voice communication. And there’s no better or cheaper way to use that tool than through the Skype app.
We’ll get to the pecuniary lure of Skype in just a bit, because there are other reasons to use the app than just saving dollars. For one thing, Skype-to-Skype calls on the 3Gs sound much better than over AT&T’s voice network; Skype claims the sound is “near CD-quailty,” and that’s probably true — the difference is startling. And of course, Skype’ll connect you with anyone in the world for free, if they also have the Skype iPhone (or desktop) app. International texts are also cheaper, averaging about 10 cents a pop.
But the real draw is saving money by saving minutes. Even for new iPhone users who aren’t fortunate enough grandfathered in to AT&T’s unlimited data plans, using Skype makes sense because the app is pretty frugal with data over 3G, averaging about a meg/minute. Heavy phone users will probably want to opt for AT&T’s $25 two-gig data plan, which (if all the data were used for Skyping) would allow for 2,000 talk minutes. A voice plan wouldn’t even come close to being that cheap.
Currently, Skype-to-Skype calls from the iPhone over 3G are free, and nationwide calls from the app to a regular old phone number cost almost nothing (for instance, a SkypeOut plan that allows unlimited calling from either the iPhone app or the desktop app to landlines or cell phones within the U.S. and Canada is $3 per month); but Skype’s says it’ll start charging for Skype-to-Skype iPhone calls over 3G at the beginning of 2011, which may make the app less attractive; how much less depends on how much Skype decides to charge.
And there are other drawbacks. The app still doesn’t support Bluetooth headsets, so hands-free chatting must be accomplished through earphones with an inline mic. Also, buying a SkypeIn number — which gives users a Skype phone number for incoming calls and voicemail — runs an extra $6 a month (but is discounted for users who already have the SkypeOut service). Finally, there’s no Visual Voicemail, and the interface is somewhat hobbled (for instance, there’s no way to copy and paste phone numbers).
Still, the drawbacks are minor compared with the advantages — especially now, while 3G calling is still free.
Goober‘s international flat rates are cheaper than Skype’s, but their domestic flat rate within the U.S. is double; they also don’t have quite the use-base that Skype does, so you’re less likely to able to gab for free.