LONDON (Reuters) - Skype, which is being bought by Microsoft for $8.5 billion, introduced a new service on Thursday allowing users of Android phones to make free video calls to Skype contacts, including those on Apple iPhones.
The company whose name became synonymous with Internet calling in the mid-2000s said its updated Android app would initially support video calling on selectedHTC and Sony Ericsson Phones, with more to follow soon.
"We are committed to bringing Skype video calling to as many platforms as possible," Skype's product and marketing chief Neil Stevens said in a statement.
The move will help makers of phones based on Google's Android software compete with Apple's FaceTime video-calling service launched last year for the iPhone and now available on its iPad 2 tablet and Mac computers.
Video calling could also help new Skype owner Microsoft promote its Windows Phone smartphone platform, which it is merging with Nokia's in an effort to become competitive with Android and Apple.
Skype had an average of 145 million connected users per month in the fourth quarter of 2010. Together, they made 207 billion minutes of calls in 2010, about 42 percent of which was video calls.
Mobile video calling is in its infancy, but the fixed-line Internet calling market grew 12.6 percent to $17.3 billion last year, according to UK-based telecoms research firm Point Topic.
With the new Android Skype app, users will be able to make free one-to-one video calls between Android phones, iPhones, Mac computers, Microsoft Windows PCs and televisions.
The first Android handsets to support Skype video calling are the HTC Desire 5, Sony Ericsson Xperia neo, Sony Ericsson Xperia pro and the Google Nexus S.
(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Will Waterman)