Skype still calling the shots – but competitors are gaining
On August 29, 2003, a small Estonian start-up called Skype was born. Ten years later, the internet phone service has become one of the most downloaded software programs ever released.
Fans laud it as the only truly successful European tech start-up of the last decade.
The company, founded by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, has thrived because it brings the world closer together in an age when globalisation and intercontinental travel is pulling more families apart than at perhaps any other time in history.
In a blog post released last week to commemorate its 10th birthday, Skype said that a cumulative 1.4 trillion minutes of voice and video calls had been made using its service.
The company also highlighted some of the most incredible moments captured by people using Skype, including the story of a soldier witnessing the birth of his child from Iraq and a call from the top of Mount Everest. Famous Skype users include Britain's royal family, Oprah Winfrey and Lady Gaga.
Owner Microsoft claims that one-third of all international telephone calls now go through Skype. And in the surest sign of success, its brand name has become a verb – a rare distinction shared by the likes of Xerox and Google.
But though the service is incredibly popular, there are plenty of others snapping at its heels. Skype's most prominent competitor is Apple's FaceTime, available on iPhone and iPads.
Viber, an app popular with smartphone users, is also a direct competitor, as is messaging service WhatsApp. But Skype is still by far the market leader when it comes to calls rather than messaging. Its speed, simplicity and flexibility on multiple platforms have managed to keep users coming back.
It was sold to eBay in 2005 for about $2.5bn, and then to a group of venture capital firms in 2009.
In 2011, Microsoft bought the company for an impressive $8.5bn. Since then it has been busy integrating the service into several of its products, including Outlook.com.
So what's next? Technology companies live and die by their ability to innovate, and Skype is no different.
The company is currently developing a way to make and receive 3D video calls.
In an interview with the BBC, Skype's corporate vice-president Mark Gillett said the process was possible but difficult to replicate outside of a lab.
"We've seen a lot of progress in screens and a lot of people now buy TVs and computer monitors that are capable of delivering a 3D image," Mr Gillett said. "But the capture devices are not yet there."
A number of manufacturers produce cameras capable of shooting 3D images and video, but they haven't yet become a mainstream success.