Skype, the international Web calling phenomenon acquired by eBay, said that it is adding high-resolution picture phone features to its free telephone replacement service.
Version 2.0 of the Skype software at http://www.skype.com aims to make it easier for customers to sign up and use its phone-over-Internet services, which are free on computers and offer low per-minute charges when calling conventional phones.
"Video calling has come of age," Skype vice president of marketing Saul Klein said of the new feature.
The new Skype software also will allow users of the popular Microsoft Outlook e-mail management software to install a browser-based toolbar that offers instant links to Skype and notifications when other Skype users are online.
In addition, Six Apart, the top maker of Web blog software based in San Francisco, has agreed to embed links to Skype as an option for millions of users of Six Apart's Typepad blog service, the two companies said.
The deal with Six Apart will enable Web users to place instant Web-based phone calls to bloggers via Skype, further enhancing the two-way nature of blog communications.
The option of adding Skype will be available early next year on Typepad, and eventually on Live Journal, a second blogging service from Six Apart with which almost 9 million blogs have been created, the companies said in a statement.
Skype's long-rumored upgrade to video phone calling capabilities competes with computer instant messaging services that also offer video phone calling features, including Microsoft MSN and America Online's AIM service. All three services also offer customizable personal images, known as avatars, which Skype is only now introducing.
Yahoo was the first of the major Internet services to offer video conferencing for computer users, starting in 2001.
Logitech and Creative, which collectively sell around two-thirds of the world's Webcams--the miniature cameras used for video conferencing via computer, have agreed to distribution partnerships with Skype.
Webcams start at about $20 up and can cost up to $100 or more. For quality video calls, users need to use a broadband connection.
Skype has certified Web cameras from Creative and Logitech to work with its video calling service. Creative’s Webcam Instant Skype Edition comes with a personal headset and a stand-alone microphone. Not to be outdone, Logitech's QuickCam Fusion and QuickCam for Notebooks Pro come with headsets and intelligent face tracking technology.
The upgraded Skype software also features "mood indicator" software that allows users to let their contacts signal whether they are happy, sad, listening to music, available or busy and other phone personalization features.
These features also include ring tones to alert Skype users to callers and customizable personal images, known as avatars, for which users will pay around $1 apiece. Among the companies supplying avatars are American Greetings and U.K.-based Weemees.
Skype and Logitech plan to jointly market Skype Video and Logitech Webcams and telephone headsets worldwide, engaging in regional promotions and direct outreach to Logitech customers and Skype users, Logitech said in a separate statement.
Skype’s popularity has been growing with personal as well as business users worldwide.
At Skype we want to make talking over the Internet the most natural, simple thing for people all over the world to do. said Niklas Zennström, CEO of Skype. With the release of our new software, it’s never been easier for people to talk to one another for free, and now they can see each other with video as well.
Skype software is available in 27 different languages though it still lacks the ability to connect to emergency 911 services.