Skype Versus iChat--I was surprised

by Ted Wallingford

Related link:

Disruptive technologies like VoIP are constantly improving, being optimized, becoming more useable. It should be no surprise that, all of a sudden, I'm somewhat down on iChat, my up-till-now favorite voice chat program.

You see, Skype, the voice-chat client from the makers of Kazaa, was released for OS X the other day, in beta form, and I eagerly downloaded it. It's got a cute interface like iChat and looks very much at home on my Panther desktop.

The first thing I did was call my buddy in Detroit on iChat--and then call him again on Skype. Even my 8-year-old son noticed a difference in sound quality as the three of us talked about my friend's upcoming auto-race. Skype was clearly higher-fidelity than iChat.
And while it lacks the text chat features and video conferencing of iChat, it was noticeably less laggy than iChat, and it appears to have superior echo cancellation and good-enough-to-use silence suppression, two things that iChat and other voice chat clients have always relied on a push-to-talk button for.

Now, putting aside Skype's awesomely hi-fi (but proprietary) sound codec and its slick, candy-like interface, a video conference feature would be nice, and so would interoperability with other systems--especially those that use SIP for session management--so that calling to and from the public voice system can be routed through gateway servers.
Skype has another thing going for it that iChat doesn't--it allows calls between Windows and Mac users!

Do you use iChat for voice chats? Is Skype good enough to replace it?


2004-09-01 07:41:37
Correction from Apple's site:

iChat AV 2.1 supports videoconferencing with the new AOL Instant Messenger 5.5 for Windows, giving you immediate access to the millions of people in both the Mac and PC communities. iChat AV 2.1 requires Mac OS X v10.3 or later.

2004-09-01 07:50:45
Correction from Apple's site:
Thanks for that tidbit, melwalker.

What I was getting at is that iChat itself doesn't run on Windows, so the slick interface, nifty video window, and text chat functions that i love in iChat remain Mac-only. Hopefully, Skype will add videoconferencing and beef up the text chat, because I doubt Apple will give us a Windows iChatAV.

2004-09-01 08:47:06
Skype bandwidth usage
Looks like 24 kbps to 128 kbps, though I'm not sure if that's because of variable sample rate, some kind of adaptive CELP codec or something totally different. Afaik, their encoding technique is quite well-hidden underneath heavy-duty encryption. Of course, though it kills Skype's hackability, some view the encryption as a feature--i.e. media privacy.

According to Skype's site:

How much bandwidth does Skype use while I’m in a call?
On average, Skype uses between 3-16 kilobytes/sec depending on bandwidth available for other party, network conditions in between, callers CPU performance, etc.
How much bandwidth does Skype use when there are no active calls?
On average Skype uses 0-0.5 kilobytes/sec while idle. This is used mainly for buddy presence updates. The exact bandwidth depends on many factors.

2004-09-01 08:48:48
Correction from Apple's site:
I sincerely hope that Apple does give us iChat for Windows. It is really annoying to pay for what is no doubt good technology and be unable to use it because most people use Windows. I also think they should give us Windows Safari. Like iTunes, I actually think that getting these things on Windows PC's could actually help the transition to Mac as it breaks down the barriers and reduces the fear that people have. It is a showcase of Apple technology plus it helps sell iSight cameras and promote better web standards.
2004-09-01 09:28:26
skype vs ichat
the reason for skype's superior quality is because skype uses a voice technology from a company call global ip sound

i would recommend that you ichat users put in the word to apple for the global ip sound technology

2004-09-01 09:58:50
Correction from Apple's site:
Ichat would make an excellent Windows port, because it would sell more Isights to Windows users. Every person that has seen my Isight has commented on how nice it is. The only problem is that it will only work as a standard FireWire video source on Windows -- the excellent microphone is unsupported by the lack of a driver.
2004-09-01 11:05:56
Correction from Apple's site:
IMHO, you'll never see a Windows port of Safari, primarily becuase the entire browser uses the Quartz GUI libraries in OSX. Those libraries don't exist for Windows and given the serious restrictions MS puts on code availability, I sincerely doubt they could be ported to Windows.
2004-09-02 07:16:12
Correction from Apple's site:
Quit whining and buy a Mac, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
2004-09-08 15:23:59
Skype vs iChat
We have both. We preferred to use SkypeOut fom my PC to call USA/Japan (3 cents/min) vs a free iChat to iChat call. The qualtity is better and the cost is small. I have yet to use up my first 10 euro of SkypeOut.
2004-09-21 08:51:17
Not my experience...
I found Skype and used it to call my wife from the hotel in Mexico on a recent business trip. Sound quality was only OK, but pretty good considering I didn't have an external mic for my powerbook.
Then when I got back to California, I got my brother to use Skype and we talked using it a little bit. By this time I had a headset with a PlainTalk compatible mic.
iChat came up in the conversation, but I figured I couldn't use it because I've only got a G3. Checked again, and the G3 is good for voice but not video. So I shutdown Skype and fired up iChat.
With iChat, the voice quality didn't so much improve, but the dropouts and clicks and pops that Skype produced were gone.
2005-10-13 19:43:07
My vote's for Skype
I'm based in Japan but have family living in Australia. After heckling my sister/brother-in-law to download Skype, we got talking for "hours". The only problem we had was talking too close into the mic. The sound quality was so good (better than talking over a regular phone) it almost felt we were in the same room - really. Adding video-conferencing on Skype would blow iChat away for good. Not that I want that to happen since I recently bought iSight which works only with iChat. If only iChat could be made available for Windows users, like my sister...
2006-02-05 10:38:15
iChat better in Video Conferencing
I can't tell much the difference in voice chat, I think they are the same... But iChat certainly gets sharper and better compression/Decomporession with their H.264 than Skype.