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CES: Skype buys rival Qik to handle two-way Android video calls
Skype CEO Tony Bates

Skype’s CEO, Tony Bates.

(Credit:
Jessica Dolcourt/CNET)

LAS VEGAS–If you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em. In the weeks leading up to CES, we guessed that Skype would take two-way video calling to Andorid phones.

What we didn’t expect was that it’d do so by snatching up the competition. At a press conference, Skype announced that it acquired Qik, a rival that became well known when it was preloaded onto the HTC Evo with its front-facing camera.

Tony Bates, Skype’s new CEO (about 17 days new, Bates says), wouldn’t disclose Qik’s purchase price (it’s rumored to be a cool $100 million), nor the integration plan going forward, but he did say that Skype plans to work together with Qik. So for now, we’re not certain if, when, or how Skype will suck Qik into the Skype brand.

Bates did not discuss the aborted two-way video-chatting tablet demo we almost saw yesterday at Nvidia’s press conference.

Skype’s other announcements included:

  • Group video calling on the desktop for up to 10 parties, for consumers and the enterprise; $8.99 per month

  • Skype TV: Skype inks deals with Blu-ray makers and Sony Bravia, Vizio VIA TVs. A reworked version of the SkypeKit API will get Skype in other devices–like an OnStar car dashboard and the Pandachip nanny camera.

  • On the humanitarian end, Skype CEO Bates envisions Skype in classrooms and in the developing world, connecting aid workers, for instance, with communities in need

Skype would not comment on its impending IPO.

For the stat-happy among you, Skype’s Bates rattled off many. Skype claims it handles 25 percent of international calling minutes and 190 billion minutes per year.

Originally posted at CES 2011

Mac App Store launches on Snow Leopard
The Mac App Store is open for business.

Apple brings the app store experience to Mac users.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET)

The Mac App Store is officially open.

According to Apple, the marketplace is launching with over 1,000 paid and free apps in categories ranging from games to productivity. As with the company’s mobile store available on the iPad and iPhone, users can search for apps, find out “what’s hot,” check out staff favorites, and see the most-downloaded programs in different categories.

Apple itself is selling iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand for $14.99 each. Its Pages, Keynote, and Numbers apps are available for $19.99 in the store. It’s also selling Aperture 3, its photo-editing software, for $79.99.

“With more than 1,000 apps, the Mac App Store is off to a great start,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement. “We think users are going to love this innovative new way to discover and buy their favorite apps.”

But it’s important to note that the Mac App Store won’t be offered to every Mac owner. The store is available only to Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard users through the free 10.6.6 software update. It will also be made available in Mac OS X 10.7 Lion when it launches later this year.

On the development side, Apple is keeping the same revenue-sharing policy it has in place for its mobile app store. Developers selling paid apps will keep 70 percent of the revenue generated from sales, while Apple will take the remaining 30 percent. Developers offering free apps won’t be charged anything to make their programs available in the Mac marketplace.

Originally posted at The Digital Home

CES: VoxOx attempts communication unification, again

LAS VEGAS–VoxOx debuted several years ago as a high-powered multi-protocol chat alternative that incorporated some nifty VoIP features thanks to its parent company, a small telecom outfit called TelCentris.

Today at CES 2011, TelCentris announces a revamped VoxOx with an emphasis on simplicity and messaging unification.

VoxOx’s new unified messaging window.

(Credit:
TelCentris)

The big improvement to the latest version of the program, available for Windows and Mac, is the unified messaging window. People will be able to interact via instant message, SMS, VoIP phone calls, and social networking all from the same communications stream. This includes voice mail transcriptions similar to Google Voice, although TelCentris Chief Technology Officer Kevin Hertz asserted in an interview prior to the VoxOx announcement that VoxOx’s transcriptions are of a notably higher quality than Google Voice’s.

Hertz’s example of how the unified messaging window can work started with a voice mail left on a phone number that’s been associated with VoxOx. That voice mail’s transcription will then appear in the unified messaging window under the contact who left the voice mail. The VoxOx user can then initiate a call back from within VoxOx, send an SMS to the contact’s mobile number, reply by instant message, or send a tweet.

The program’s contact list has also received the unified treatment, and it now supports merging contacts with an intuitive drag-and-drop. In use, it felt similar to Google’s recent contact merging option in Gmail, although it lacks Gmail’s select-all and merge buttons. (Watch a video demo of the VoxOx contact merge feature.)

VoxOx’s Call Connect, the rebranded and expanded Call Back feature from previous versions, can now trigger VoIP calls on any phone, as well as via SMS and computer. You can also choose the U.S.-based phone number that you receive when you complete the required, free registration process. (VoxOx has made a video demo of Call Connect, too.)

The guts of VoxOx have received a fairly significant overhaul, according to Hertz and at least cursorily verified after an hour or so of hands-on testing. In part, this is due to what Hertz described as better API support from services such as Facebook and Skype, although in the case of Call Connect, TelCentris invested in a new data center to ensure the feature’s stability. This version feels like the most stable version of VoxOx yet, though the program’s top-heavy approach to features have plagued it with usability problems since it was originally released in 2008.

Mobile apps are on the way for VoxOx users. VoxOx’s new senior product manager, Matt Howell, confirmed that an iPhone app for VoxOx is awaiting App Store approval, and that an Android app is planned.

TelCentris is also soft-launching the Web site KeepTheNetFree.org at CES 2011, which aims to promote Net neutrality by advocating policy positions that “put the user first,” CEO Bryan Hertz said in a statement explaining the move. It’s not a surprising one, though, given that smaller telecoms like TelCentris stand to lose big if the larger players control the marketplace’s pipelines.

To support the relaunching of VoxOx, San Diego-based TelCentris has sponsored an iPhone giveaway at CES this year. Attendees who spot a costumed alien on the show floor and repeat the phrase “Speak Free with VoxOx” will win an iPhone–no mean feat given the number of costumed aliens known to roam free at CES. The offer is limited to one phone giveaway every 20 minutes.

Originally posted at CES 2011

Skype for Android two-way video chat all but guaranteed
Skype two-way video calling

Two-way video chatting: it’s coming.

(Credit: Skype)

LAS VEGAS–Skype’s official CES press conference isn’t until tomorrow, but there’s a lot we already know, thanks to Nvidia. During a press conference today, the Tegra 2 chipmaker confirmed what we’ve been speculating for weeks, that Skype will introduce two-way video calling for Android devices.

The announcement came casually, as Nvidia President and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang welcomed Manrique Brenes, Skype’s director of Business Development, to the stage to show off Skype video chatting on an Android tablet running one of Nvidia’s dual-core chips.

Choked bandwidth caused Huang to scrap the demo and move on, but not before making it clear that two-way video chat is a reality. Skype recently brought video chatting to the iPhone, after falling behind mobile competitors.

Although he didn’t say more than a few words about it on stage, Skype’s Benares did say this in a statement:

We are excited that NVIDIA has leveraged SkypeKit to build a reference implementation of HD video calling on Android Tablets. In the near future, consumers will be able to make video calls from their Tegra-powered Tablets to anyone else using Skype, whether it’s on a PC, Mac, TVs, or phones.

We think it’s a safe bet we’ll see the same in a Skype-made app for Android smartphones. Skype’s press conference begins tomorrow (Thursday) at 10:30 am. Check back with us then.

Originally posted at CES 2011