NOTE: This article has nothing to do with genealogy, other than perhaps providing a cheap method for you to call your distant relatives. However, I have written before about Skype and thought I would offer one more article describing its uses.
Skype is the free service that allows you to talk from computer to computer, anywhere in the world. While the basic service is free, low-cost options also are available to place calls to and from normal telephone systems at ridiculously low prices. You can see my earlier articles about Skype at: http://www.google.com/cse?cx=003715150024579880844%3Aulyzue1ivzu&ie=UTF-8&q=Skype&sa=Search.
Even better, you do not need to use a computer, nor do you need to use headphones. At home, I typically use a cordless phone to make and receive Skype calls all over the world. I recently planned my trips to New Zealand and to England, paying two or three cents per minute for Skype calls to make reservations at hotels and rental car companies in those countries. I wrote about using Skype without a computer and without a headset at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2008/08/use-skype-witho.html.
Today Skype released its newest offering: Skype for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch. If you have one of those devices, you can save significant money on long-distance calls by downloading the free Skype application.
Skype for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch is a Wi-Fi-only application. It won't work on the cell phone network when you are riding down the road in your automobile. You must be within range and connected to a Wi-Fi network. I am always within Wi-Fi range when at home and at the office. I also frequently use Wi-Fi at restaurants, coffee shops, many bookstores, airport lounges, libraries, in most hotels, and at many more locations.
The best news, though, is for iPod Touch owners. The iPod Touch is a music player. I don't think the engineers at Apple ever thought about making telephone calls on it. However, if you plug in one of the Apple headphones that includes a microphone and then load the Skype software, you have a telephone that works well as long as you are connected to a Wi-Fi network.
I downloaded the 2.7 megabyte application this morning, entered my Skype username and password, and was fully operational within seconds. I saw my contacts list. I found that I can either see all contacts and narrow them down by typing into the search field, or opt to see only online contacts. In other words, it looks just like Skype for a desktop computer.
I made the first call to the Skype Test Number, which simply records your voice and then plays it back to you. It worked perfectly; the audio quality was as good as or even better than a regular telephone call. I then called a friend and chatted for a while. He didn't know that I was calling by Skype until I told him about the new service. He then remarked that he couldn't detect any difference between this call and any other that I have made to him in the past.
If you are a Skype user who owns an iPhone or an iPod Touch, you should have this application. It's free, it is easy to use, and it just works. If you make long-distance calls and if you are frequently within range of a Wi-Fi wireless network, Skype can save you a lot of money.
You can learn more or even download the new Skype application at the iTunes page at http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=304878510&mt=8 or simply press the App Store icon on your iPhone. Again, the Skype application is available free of charge.
No, I am not affiliated with Skype in any way. I am simply a satisfied user.
UPDATE: The Skype for iPhone/iPod Touch application has now been available for about 16 hours. During that time, it has become the #1 most popular application available on iTunes, Apple's download service for iPhones and iPods.
If I was a telephone company executive, I'd be concerned. My customers are discovering numerous cheaper alternatives to the phone companies' exorbitant rates.