iPhone users have today been buzzing about the prospect of making free calls, following the release (at long, last) of Skype on the Apple device. The client allows users to make free Skype-to-Skype calls over WiFi, and SkypeOut calls to anyone around the World over 3G. It marks a significant breakthrough for Skype, a company, perhaps quite rightly, feared by mobile network operators for the damage it could do to their cushy business models.
The new iPhone version of Skype will be a worry for Nimbuzz, which, until now, has been top of the pile in terms of iPhone chat apps. Until now, Nimbuzz offered the best way to make Skype calls from an iPhone. So, how does the official version of Skype compare with the Nimbuzz offering?
Firstly, it’s worth remembering that Nimbuzz is a multi-network client that allows you to pull all your contacts together in one place, so you can exchange messages with all your friends on networks such as MSN, AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, Jabber, Facebook, or MySpace – as well as Skype. The iPhone Skype client, however, is designed solely for Skype users and, as a result, has more of the native functions from the VoIP service.
The user interface in Nimbuzz combines all of your contacts from all these various networks in one place, and you can see who is online at any time. Everything is presented in a very neat and clear way: contacts are ordered alphabetically and each has a different icon depending on which network they belong to. You simply need to tap on a person’s name then select an icon from: Call, Chat or Mail.
The Skype UI is equally impressive. In fact, I would say it’s unerringly similar. Skype also has an alphabetized contacts, which is even easier to navigate than the one in the desktop version of the program. You can choose to view all of your contacts, or only the ones who are online. Click on a contact and their profile page will be loaded, giving you the option to either call them, chat, or view their full profile. Both Skype and Nimbuzz have similar, finger-friendly dialpads, for making calls over SkypeOut.
Because Nimbuzz supports a range of different IM and social networks, there is naturally more you can do with it, if only for the fact you have access to a much bigger range of contacts than just your Skype friends. You can chat over IM, talk over VoIP (if using Skype, Google Talk, MSN, etc.), or send a person an email just by clicking on their name, regardless of how you know them.
The Skype iPhone app has more to offer than Nimbuzz if you’re just using it for Skyping. For instance, you’re able to edit your profile, uploading a picture you’ve taken on your iPhone if you so wish. You can also activate voicemail, top up your credit, and add status messages from the client.
Both of the applications offer very clear, crisp call quality, and the sound you hear isn’t that different than if you were listening to it on a desktop computer. In terms of the overall running of the program, I actually thought that Skype is faster and smoother. Often, Nimbuzz takes ages to load all of my contacts, whereas the Skype client displays the names and status of each contact almost instantaneously. Skype has the ability to automatically data from your iPhone contacts if you need to make a call over Skype to them.
Overall, I’d say that Skype offers the more enjoyable user experience. It looks great and its great-looking interface is very comfortable to use. If you just want a program that lets you make VoIP calls over WiFi, then this is the one to plump for. If, however, you have lots of email, social networking and IM accounts, then Nimbuzz provides a complete and compact solution for doing so. Perhaps Nimbuzz will lose a small portion of its iPhone user base to Skype, but in the long run I think the competition will help to keep both apps at the bleeding edge of mobile VoIP. Perhaps they might even persuade the operators to allows Skype-to-Skype calls over their networks.