iPhone users, as well as some Nokia handset owners, will have a new - and free - way to visit face-to-face with friends and family this holiday season. A service called Fring is making it possible to place video calls over Skype using a WiFi connection.
"Right now iPhone and iPod touch users can receive and make Fring and Skype video calls entirely over [an] Internet connection (for free!) and see the person on the other end," states a Dec. 1 post on the Fring blog. "When a front camera is placed on these [friends], we'll have two-way video calls available here too, just as we do on all the supported Nokia devices."
Nokia phones that can be "Fringified," as the company calls it, are Nokia touch devices, such as the X6, N97, N97 Mini and 5800, as well as the Nokia N95, 8G and N82.
What's Fring? It's a voice-over IP application of sorts, available in the Apple App Store, that ties together a user's online friends with their favorite social applications and networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, AIM, Google Talk and Last FM.
"Fring gathers up all your friends, connects to all their online social networks at the same time and serves them up in a single buddy list. All you do is pick the person and choose the way you feel like interacting," explains an introductory video. "Fring mashes up the things you already like to do, for a complete social, mobile experience."
Fring works on all versions of the iPhone, from the original to the iPhone 3G S. Users can place free calls to other "Fringsters" - an actually trademarked word - or via Fring use Skype, Skype-out or any other SIP provider. Fring offers a searchable contact list that combines contacts from Skype, MSN Messenger, Google Talk, ICQ, Twitter, Yahoo and AIM, and a view of the best way to get in touch with friends.
"It's a nice gee-whiz factor for early adopters [to Fring] to play with," Bill Ho, an analyst with Current Analysis, told eWEEK. "Though it remains to be seen whether it'll be compelling to the mainstream."
Ho notes that video requires a lot more bandwidth than voice, and users should realize they'll be tethered to a WiFi hotspot. However, this need to make note and use of WiFi hotspots is likely to make iPhone users, for example, take better advantage of both their smartphones and their AT&T service contracts, which include the use of AT&T's hotspots in locations such as Starbucks cafes.
While AT&T numbers its hotspot locations at "over 20,000," Ho says there are actually more than 24,000.
So, Fring could potentially make AT&T customers feel like they're getting more for their money?
"Yeah," said Ho. "As long as [Fring] doesn't get on the 3G network."