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Skype for iPhone adds two-way video calling

While Skype is nowhere near first to wave the video calling banner, waiting may not have been a bad move. For a player this major, quality and timing are everything.

Skype for iPhone with two-way video calling
Two-way video chatting: it's here.

The word you're looking for is "finally." As in, "Oh look, Skype has finally stepped up to the competition by adding two-way video chatting to its VoIP iPhone app!" Indeed, this anticipated addition is one for which Skype-watchers and users have been thirsting since Fring's two-way video calling app nosed into the iPhone app store this past July, following Apple's introduction of its own Face Time video chatting software. But more on that later.

What iPhone users worldwide first need to know is that starting today, an update to the free Skype for iPhone will start being seen in the App Store. The global roll-out may take some time, so be patient if you don't find it immediately.

The app contains many of the features you'd expect. You can use either 3G or Wi-Fi to place two-way video calls, and the technology works in both portrait and landscape modes. You can mute a call, place or answer a call with just audio or with audio and video, and swap between the front-facing or rear-facing cameras. The Skype for iPhone app retains its auxiliary features as well, like instant messenger and SMS to chat with friends before, after, or during a call; and status message updates. There's also a history tab for reviewing recent communications with members of your buddy list.

As with the recently-released ooVoo Mobile (for Android,) Skype for iPhone will work for anyone on Skype's network, be they desktop or mobile users. While you can only broadcast video on on Apple devices with rear-facing or front-facing cameras--namely the iPhone 4, iPod Touch 4, and iPhone 3GS, you can also receive incoming video broadcasts on the iPad and third-generation iPod Touch. As an extra bonus, desktop Skype users (Windows|Mac) can share a view of their computer screen with Skype users on iPhone.

While many have hammered Skype for being slow to develop this feature (us, included,) Skype's timing is certainly salient. Its two-way video calling app is rolling out in time for cross-continental New Year's Eve calls, but before the relentless noise of next week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES). This gives Skype a head start on news that otherwise may have been swallowed up in the flood of flashy gadgets. Nevertheless, Skype does have a press conference schedules for CES, during which time we may see Skype's two-way video calling come to select Android phones--we'll guess the Samsung Epic 4G and HTC Evo for a start, along with any other Android phones that may come out of the show.

We've been waiting for Skype to release mobile video chat for a long time. One of the founding members of VoIP video calls should have also been the leader in bringing the technology to mobile phones. However, since the first murmurs of this type began, Skype has pointed to technical challenges in getting acceptable video quality to work over 3G to its millions of global users (124 million per month, according to the company). Since Skype certainly wasn't the first non-Apple player; it'll have to win market share by being the best. Or at least by being better than Fring, ooVoo Mobile, Qik, and others.

We'll soon follow up with a hands-on review of Skype's to see just how well Skype has tackled these issues with two-way video calling. In the meantime, here's one last word from the sponsor. Skype is claiming frame rates of 12 frames per second when sending a video stream and 15 frames per second to receive a video; all while over 3G.

If you get a chance to download and use Skype's two-way video calling on iPhone, tell us what you think.