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Why Skype still can't compete with iMessage (it's all about greed, grudges, and fear)

Brad Chacos | Aug. 23, 2013
Skype is now baked into Windows 8.1, Xbox One, and Outlook.com. But until Windows Phone gains momentum and the wireless carriers chill out, it will never become a mobile standby.

Sure, Windows Phones users can easily download Skype from the Windows Phone Store, but apps you have to download don't get nearly as much usage as native programs. So why isn't Skype baked into Windows Phone yet?

Why Windows Phone isn't getting Skype
Simple: Because it's Skype.

Note that I didn't say, "Because Skype's owned by Microsoft." Though past bundling efforts by Microsoft resulted in a strong antitrust response by governments around the globe, those days are long gone. Witness the Skype rollout on all of Microsoft's other platforms, or the default nature of iMessage and Google Hangouts.

Carriers like AT&T and Verizon, however, have a borderline hatred of Skype, as well as any other service that threatens to bite into the juicy profits that voice calls and text messages bring to the bottom line. Consider this statement from AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson:

Way back when, AT&T allowed VoIP providers like Skype and Google Voice to set up shop on the iPhone only after succumbing to blistering pressure from the FCC. In 2010, Verizon billed Skype-call minutes as voice-call minutes. Even as late as last year, the wireless network that Ma Bell built required users of iPhone's FaceTime over Cellular to employ an AT&T Mobile Share plan.

Nokia's Lumia phones account for nearly 87 percent of all Windows Phone usage, according to AdDuplex, and in 2012 Nokia CEO Stephen Elop said that the mere fact that Microsoft owns Skype hurts the Windows Phone business:

The feedback from operators is they don't like Skype, of course, because for those operators who have a traditional wire-line business, traditional telephone business, it could take away from revenues.

And, so what Microsoft has done—and we've been part of these conversations as well with operators—is as you correctly say, if [an] operator doesn't want Skype installed on a Windows Phone from Nokia or any other company, then the operator can make that decision.

AdDuplex's stats show that AT&T and Verizon account for 73 percent of all Windows Phone 8 device usage as of August 2013, and surprise! The Lumias sold on those networks don't carry Skype by default.

Why patience may help

Microsoft should jump at anything that could make Windows Phone more appealing to everyday users, and integrating Skype definitely falls into that category—but doing so would royally piss off the carriers. Apple and Google have the market share to force their cross-platform messaging services on the likes of AT&T, but with just 3.7 percent of the smartphone market, Microsoft simply can't afford to battle the The Man.

But don't despair. The status quo is already shifting.

The use of messaging apps is skyrocketing, and voice calling has declined every year since the iPhone's introduction. To compensate, big carriers are already shifting to expensive shared-data plans that include unlimited text and talk messages, but charge more for tiered data use. It's hellaciously clever—and once shared-data plans reach critical mass, Verizon and other companies will have an active incentive to encourage the use of messaging services like Skype. More Web-sent data requires a beefier data allotment, after all.

That day's not here yet, though, and because of that, Skype is still no iMessage. "One Microsoft, all the time" comes with an asterisk, no matter how much native Skype integration could help users, or Microsoft itself.

 

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