Handbags at ten paces
We've all heard of Skype, but you may not yet be familiar with Fring. The latter specialises in VoIP services for mobile phones and, as well as aggregating many different IM services on one platform, was enabling video calling on the iPhone long before Apple introduced FaceTime with iOS4.
Five days ago, on 8 July, Fring announced its latest version - for iOS4 - allowed "unrestricted 2-way video calling over Wi-Fi or 3G internet with other iPhone, Android or Symbian devices." This potentially represents a significant upgrade over FaceTime as the Apple app is restricted to Wi-Fi and only works between iOS4 devices.
Now, there has obviously been some simmering aggro between Fring and Skype, which was one of the third-party apps Fring supported, for a little while. It seems a strong coincidence, at the very least, that the day after the latest version of Fring was launched, Fring blogged that demand for video calling had been so great that it was going to have to "temporarily reduce support" for Skype in order to cope.
By yesterday, things had started to get tasty and Fring issued a press release entitled "Following Fring's string of mobile video calling wins - Skype blocks Fring." It went on to say that Skype had threatened legal action against Fring. "We apologize to our users for the impact of Skype's bullying and we will be happy to reconnect with Skype once Skype reverses their decision," said Fring CEO Avi Shechter.
Clearly believing this particular pudding to be under-egged, Fring also followed-up with a blog post entitled "Skype cowardly blocks Fring." Apparently, having sorted out the network capacity issues brought about by video calling, Skype prevented Fring from restoring support to it.
Funnily enough, Skype has a different perspective on recent events. In yet another blog post, Skype said the decision of Fring to temporarily suspend support for Skype was damaging to its brand and that Fring has been using Skype in a way that's in breach of its Ts and Cs. It insisted that there's no truth in Fring's claim that Skype has blocked it.
This clearly has a way to go before it's resolved and we wonder what, if any, role Apple has to play in it all. We presume Apple wants iOS users to do all their video calling via FaceTime, but it has to be seen to embrace all apps, with all the increased competitive scrutiny it's facing. We sincerely hope that the coincidence of this spat and the commencement of video calling on iOS4 is merely that.