Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The bizarre and macabre world of Skype Phones

Okay, so I wasn't too kind to Skype's new Prime feature yesterday, however, I am a big fan of Skype overall. I have now replaced my 'landline replacement' phone service at home with Skype (I am still using an Ol' Skool POTS line for most calls), and I have found the quality to be pretty darn good. Recently, I have been coming across a wide swath of Skype Phones and devices, and they range from the normal to the quite eccentric. While Skype's own Gear Blog seems to provide good insight and reviews on the latest and greatest products for Skype, I thought I would take a specific look at some of the more 'portable' gadgets for Skype, since many of us Skype users travel with our laptops and use Skype to call home from whereever we are at the moment. Obviously, we all like to travel light, so here are some interesting, if not weird options:

1. The Sony USB Mouse Phone (above Right), if you normally lug a mouse with you on the road, this option is essentially a mouse the folds open into a phone. This is very stealthy looking device, and it very sexy and functional in the classic sony style, but it begs the one question: Let's say I'm on the Skype Call, how do I use my computer?

Next up is the Panasonic Skype Router phone. Panasonic followed the lead of others like D-Link and Linksys and created a travel router. These small form factor routers are designed for travelers to create a hotspot out of your hotel room's wired connection. This one also comes with a Skype Phone as well (however, it is unclear to me if this is a true wi-fi skype phone than can be used with any open hotspot, or if it will only work with this hotspot). Again, an interesting concept, complete with a leather travel case, but do you really want to shlep this around on business trips, when you can by the Belkin or Netgear phones for less?

Finally, the Kensington's PC Card phone rounds out this interesting trio. Essentially, this is a bluetooth Skype Handset. No LCD, nothing fancy, just your average bluetooth headset but in a handset form factor. But here is the kicker - it fits into a PC card slot and charges itself off of your computer's battery - I smell a winner.

If by chance you make skype gadgets, and you want me to review one, please feel free to contact me :)

Monday, March 12, 2007

The good and the bad of Skype Prime

Last week Skype announced Skype Prime. In a nutshell, Skype prime allows individuals to run their own pay-per-use or pay-per-minute VoIP services. I have not tried this service yet, but I can already realize how this is both a great and potentially bad thing:

What makes it great? It makes it very simple for you to offer premium phone services to the Skype community. You could offer tech support or homework help for $0.50 a minute or you could offer a daily joke for a $1 a call. Or, you can charge certain people more money to call you so that they don't call you every 3 seconds. While not necessarily good, although not necessarily bad, I wouldn't be surprised if this turns into a huge porn venue (heck, you can charge for video calls, I would be surprised if someone didn't start such as service already). But then there are the downsides.

Imagine if you will that you initiate a call legitimately to a 'Prime' provider and you accept their fees, but then feel you didn't get what you were promised? Or you agreed to a high per-minute rate and felt that they were prolonging the call? What is your medium for dispute? How are both buyer and seller protected? (funny, doesn't this sound a lot like eBay issues?)

Worse than that, I am sure that it won't be long before folks find illegitimate ways to profit from this. For example, a malicious user could theoretically force you to download a skype Plug-in that randomly calls a 'prime' service and eats away your credits. They wouldn't even have to rob you blind - they could extract 10 or 20 cents from a few hundred thousand people and still make some serious cash. Or, they could offer prime services in some obscure currency that masks the real rate and makes the service seem cheaper. In the former case, it would cause skype to change the rules and permissions for writing extras, thereby eliminating some of those skype extras that are legitimate.

While I think that this has a lot of potential on the upside, the downside of it is really scary, and I hope the Beta Period Helps Skype figure out how to address some of the security concerns.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

If only it came in my Toyota

BMW and Google announced today that you can now send Google maps directions and info straight from Google Maps to the BMW's Assist GPS system. While the likelihood of me ever owning a Bimmer is slim, this shows that Car manufacturers are embracing technology more and more. C|Net now even offers a Car Tech site, where they review all of the latest in-car technology. It seems that every car now has a factory-installed Bluetooth hands-free option that let's you talk over the stereo system, and many more offer various iPod and MP3 intergration options. Still, the Bimmer is probably one of the first to be net-connected.

Interestingly enough, about 3 years ago, I was at a conference and saw a presentation by someone from Microsoft regarding where they felt mobile technology was going. The presentation showed a demo of someone walking into his car and having it automatically recognize his PDA. The car could read incoming e-mails and voicemails (integrated into one inbox) and could also access the PDA's contact database to make phone calls via voice dialing.

While we are not quite there yet, we've definitely come a long way baby!