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Skype for iPad: A Viable Alternative to FaceTime

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The Skype for iPad app offers videoconferencing with all other Skype users, including PC users, so iPad users can connect free (or at very little cost) with a wide range of people. Jason R. Rich, author of Your iPad 2 at Work, explains how iPad users can save time and money by using Skype.

In 2011, a brand-new iPad-specific Skype app was released, and the Skype service was acquired by Microsoft. In this article, we'll look at how you can use the free Skype app, in conjunction with the Skype online-based service, to make and receive calls, send and receive text messages, and participate in real-time videoconferencing by using your Apple iPad 2.

A Little Skype History

Skype started out as a Voice over IP (VoIP) phone service that allowed users to make and receive phone calls from their computers via the Internet. Over time, this service has evolved dramatically.

In October 2011, Microsoft completed its acquisition of Skype. With more than 30 million active users worldwide, Skype now allows people to participate in real-time videoconferencing; use the service's Skype-to-Skype calling, text messaging, and instant messaging features for free; and make Skype-to-landline or Skype-to-cell phone calls for just pennies per minute (whether you're calling across town, across the country, or anywhere in the world).

An iPhone-specific version of the Skype app has been available for a while. It offers Voice over IP calling, which continues to be an ideal tool for Americans traveling abroad who want to call home to the United States without incurring hefty international roaming fees when using their iPhone. Within the U.S., it provides an extremely inexpensive way to make calls abroad, as long as the iPhone has access to a Wi-Fi Internet connection.

In September 2011, an iPad-specific Skype app was released that not only rivals the functionality of Apple's FaceTime app for videoconferencing, but allows iPad users to use their tablet to access all of Skype's other calling and communications features.

The main drawback to FaceTime is that it's usable only by Mac, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, and iPod touch users. However, free versions of the Skype software or apps are now available for every major computing and smartphone platform, making it easy for Skype users to communicate with each other, regardless of whether they're using a PC running Windows, a Mac, an iOS device, a Skype-compatible television set, or an Android-based mobile device, for example.

The iPad-specific Skype app, which is available for free from the App Store, works with your existing Skype account. Once an account is established, using Skype on the iPad 2, you can utilize a wide range of calling options:

  • Enjoy free real-time videoconferencing with other Skype users.
  • Make unlimited free Skype-to-Skype voice calls.
  • Make Skype-to-landline calls, or receive calls from any phone (a fee applies).
  • Make Skype-to-cell calls, or receive calls from any cell phone (a fee applies).
  • Use Skype's fee-based text messaging or free instant messaging service.
  • Access your own, unique Skype phone number and voicemail (a fee applies).
  • Use a variety of free calling features, including conference calling, Caller ID, and call forwarding.
  • Use Skype to manage all of your Skype contacts and frequently called phone numbers (another free feature).

Unlike FaceTime, Skype works with both Wi-Fi and 3G Internet connections, and it works with a wireless Bluetooth headset paired with your iPad 2, making it easier to enjoy some privacy when using the tablet for videoconferencing or voice calls.

Making calls to traditional landlines or cell phones, whether used for domestic or international calls, costs as little as 2.3 cents per minute. Once you establish a free Skype account, you can purchase a monthly unlimited calling plan ($2.99 per month) for making calls within the U.S. and Canada. Another option is to pay $13.99 per month for unlimited calling to more than 30 countries. There is no long-term contract to sign.

If you only make occasional international calls (calling from the U.S. to another country, or calling back to the U.S. while traveling abroad), you can opt for a pay-as-you-go plan, and paying only for calls you make using the Skype online-based service.

You may want your own unique Skype phone number, so that non-Skype users can call your iPad 2 by using their regular phone line or cell phone. A separate $6.00 per month fee applies, but voicemail and call forwarding are included with your phone number.

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