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Separate the Skype Engine From the GUI

Skype’s Developer Blog has an interesting post this morning from Peeter Mõtsküla asking for comment on a proposal to separate the Skype GUI from the underlying Skype engine.  Cool! 

As I have said many times in the past, softphones are platforms.  The future role of the softphone is an integration platform for desktop applications. Skype’s platform strategy, today, is only half there.  It relies on old IPC technologies, and forces developers to always have the Skype GUI front and center. This move would address the deficiencies of their current strategy, and would give developers the ability to create bots, specialized Skype softphones for different classes of users (think business), and potentially native Skype devices rather than the PC attached handsets of today.  It’s a very smart move, and has been a long time coming.

Exposing the Skype engine in this fashion will also be a core part of Skype’s ecosystem strategy.  Everytime a Skype API is embedded into a complementary product from a partner, it increases the longevity of Skype in the market place, and it gives Skype the leverage it needs to negotiate the best deals possible with the market, including the PSTN operators.

Bottom line: when softphones become platforms, the product is no longer the technology itself, but the API.  Success needs to be measured not by the number of Skype branded softphone clients in the market place, but by the number of applications communicating using Skype protocols.

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Andrew April 25, 2006, 10:57 am

    I couldn’t have said it better myself 😉

    It would also end our ‘debate’ over platform vs. application.. http://saunderslog.com/2005/12/05/2091/

    It makes so much sense, I can’t believe it hasn’t been done yet.

  • Alec April 25, 2006, 11:56 am

    i think i won that debate already… 😉

  • Alex Kazim April 26, 2006, 11:30 am

    So, what then is the business model for the platform provider?

  • Alec April 26, 2006, 12:19 pm

    There are many possibilities, Alex:

    1. A royalty from any developer who builds a product based on Skype.
    2. Increased revenues from the models they currently use — SkypeIn / SkypeOut, etc.
    3. New pay-for applications from Skype itself

    etc…

  • Alex Kazim April 27, 2006, 5:07 pm

    Alec,

    So, agreed there are alternatives, but don't think this is easy.

    Royalties would work on hardware and shrink-wrap software, but you would have to sell a lot of SKU's to handle the expenses for even a small company like Skype. And software royalties feel more like a Playstation closed platform model vs. a Win or Mac one.

    Another issue is how to do this with Web Service applications. So, let's say I have a web site that has great content and I monetize through ads, but I choose to give away VoIP using the VoIP platform. Hard to determine a royalty in this case since the monetization is disconnected from the functionality.

    I'm not sure if anyone's cracked a model for Web Services yet. eBay tied to do this with the API by charging on a per call basis, but that was pretty tough for small developers to swallow.

    Skype In/Skype Out fees would work, but given the low margins, the developer would either have to charge a premium on top of that, or not make any money on that part of the service themselves.

    Pay for apps are definitely doable. But the platform has to walk the usual fine line of empowering the developer community while also competing with it. And of course, Om would give us an earful 😉

    So net net, there are definitely models out there. Will be interesting to see if anyone can crack the code on it.

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