Skype is announcing that they're about to scoop up Qik, a mobile live-video streaming company that grew like gang-busters last year.
The Mountain View-based Qik started 2010 with 600,000 users and closed it out with more than seven times that many—5 million. "Both Skype and Qik have a common purpose of enriching communications and sharing with video, across any device," the companies say in a press release. "The acquisition of Qik helps accelerate Skype’s leadership in video by adding recording, sharing and storing capabilities to Skype’s product portfolio."
In a press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Skype CEO Tony Bates said the company's main focus now is on becoming ubiquitous on all platforms. It launched a two-way video-calling app for the iPhone on New Year's Eve and had four million downloads and one million calls in the following 24 hours.
Skype is also adding 10-way group video calling, a premium service priced at $8.99 a month. It's expanding the number of Internet-enabled TVs that will be supporting Skype. And it is releasing an enhanced developer kit, SkypeKit, that will enable other products to incorporate Skype capabilities into their feature sets. Two examples Bates highlighted were General Motors' OnStar system and a nannycam from Pandachip.
Bates' announcement that Skype was nabbing Qik met with a whistle of amazement from the audience at CES. The company chose that service, over other potential targets, like Fring or Nimbuzz, Bates said, because of Qik's broad range of capabilities, Bates said—not just its ability to deliver video in real-time over phones, but also their ability to capture the video, store and display it in the crowd, as well as address-book synchronization features.
Bates' comments seemed to suggest a belief that winning in the mobile video telephony space would require more than simply delivering great quality calls, but would also enable users to preserve the content of those calls for later use. "[Qik] complement what we do," he said. "They are strong at capturing video moments, streaming, preserving, and replaying those moments everywere."
Qik's blog chalks up its rapid growth this past year to the release of a series of new apps, as well as partnerships with a range of smartphone providers. Indeed, the proliferation of smartphones that can support video, along with the expansion of wide-tube telephony networks means consumers should expect to see more and more devices offering live-video streaming capabilities in the near future. Apple's FaceTime has been leading the charge, but more and more players will be entering this market.
The big winners today, of course, are Skype and Qik. About 40 percent of Skype calls take place over video, according to the company. Adding Qik's engineering team gives it access to deep expertise in implementing that in a mobile environment across numerous smartphone platforms. Qik, for its part, gets access to Skype's long experience dealing with telephony across the globe.
The big losers? Department store clerks. Because now when shoppers want to know if a certain pair of jeans make their butts look big, they're no longer just going to snap a pic of themselves in the mirror and tex it off to a friend. They'll be asking the sales clerk to hold up their phone while they transmit a live feed of themselves to their significant others. (And gentlemen, the answer to that question? It's always "No.")
[Image: Andrew Hur & James Vaughan]