The Microsoft-Tango partnership shows the importance of video-calling apps to high-profile smartphone launches. Skype has said it plans to deeply embed its Internet calling technology into Windows Phone software. That kind of integration, however, takes time. Since the Microsoft acquisition was not completed until mid-October, Skype appears to not have a Windows Phone app or service ready for the launch of the first U.S. Mango handsets, which will go on sale in early November.
A Skype spokeswoman told Forbes that the company “does not have anything to announce at this time regarding Skype on Windows Phone.”
It’s a lucky break for Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tango, which was founded two years ago and debuted its first calling app (for iOS) in September 2010. Tango’s aim is to dominate video-calling on a number of consumer devices, starting with smartphones. The company believes its early adoption of Mango, which market researcher Strategy Analytics recently forecast would be the fastest-growing major mobile platform in 2012, will help it achieve its goal.
Tango’s optimism stems in part from its belief that it can keep its first-mover advantage on Windows Phone through the end of the year. “I think Microsoft sees video-calling as a killer app for holiday season sales [of Windows Phone devices],” said Tango founder and Chief Technology Officer Eric Setton in an interview. “And no other video-calling company besides us will be out on Windows Phone [before the holidays].”
Tango’s extension to Windows Phone, which is scheduled for November 7, expands its reach beyond Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. Last month, Tango also released software for PC-based calls.
All of Tango’s products are designed to work cross-platform, meaning iPhone users can call Android users, who can call PC users, and vice versa. The company says its technology is compatible with about 450 mobile devices, including nearly 30 tablets. It currently has 25 million registered users in 190 countries and is adding a little more than a million users every two weeks.
Those figures point to growth roughly twice as fast as Skype’s in its early years. That comparison, which Tango is fond of making, does not take into account the very different circumstances under which Tango launched, however. “We’ve been extremely lucky with timing,” admitted Setton. “We came out as handset manufacturers were adopting front-facing cameras and people were comfortable with video-calling because of the iPhone 4 and [Apple’s video-calling app] Facetime.”
Skype is still far ahead. The company had more than 170 million “monthly connected users” in its most recently-recorded quarterly period. That figure excludes users that connect to Skype via its various joint ventures.
Since video-calling is a complicated service that requires access to a phone’s camera, microphone and speakerphone as well as its address book and dialer software, Tango had to team up with Microsoft to produce its Mango app.
The two companies collaborated closely over the past few months. Tango helped Microsoft “work out some kinks” in Mango, said Setton. In turn, Microsoft gave Tango advice on user interface design and technical issues. Tango’s Mango app will leverage Qualcomm chips (Snapdragon 8×55 or Snapdragon 8×60) instead of software to deliver higher-resolution, more fluid video than other video-calling apps. Tango’s Mango app also utilizes Windows Phone’s characteristic “Metro” design so it looks more like a native part of the operating system. Microsoft has begun promoting the app as a Windows Phone feature through YouTube videos (see below) and at conferences.
Microsoft’s willingness to assist Tango shows the software giant is committed to open platforms, noted Setton. “We were thinking, after this big [Skype] acquisition, there was no chance they would help us,” he said. “Kudos to them.”
Setton declined to specify which Mango handsets will include Tango, but did say he expects multiple handset makers to offer the service on their Mango phones at launch. HTC is a likely partner since it has already installed Tango on its “Radar” and “Titan” Mango phones in markets outside the U.S.
More Windows Phone alliances are possible. Samsung will have Mango phones available in November on AT&T and Nokia is expected to unveil its first Mango phones Wednesday at its Nokia World event. Tango’s Windows Phone software is also compatible with older Windows Phone (WP7) handsets that are being upgraded to Mango. Tango expects to pick up new users through downloads to those devices.
Like Skype, Tango doesn’t charge for use of its basic calling/video-calling app. (If Tango users don’t enable their phone’s camera or have a front-facing camera, they can just use the app to make free calls.) Instead, Tango plans to offer a premium app with added functionality that will cost money. That app is coming later this year, said Setton.
Tango won’t have the Windows Phone ecosystem to itself forever. Setton is hopeful the company will get several months of breathing room, though. As comparison, he cites what happened with Android. “We had nine months by ourselves [on Android] before Skype came out,” he said. “It could be the same on Windows Phone. I can’t imagine the Microsoft acquisition is not distracting Skype in some ways.”
Setton believes Tango can compete even if many rivals pop up. “Handset makers want to differentiate [their devices]…and carriers will have their say, too,” he said. “I think there will be a diversity of [video-calling apps on Windows Phone].”