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My favourite thing about the iPad is that I can take it anywhere. My least favourite thing about the iPad is that I have to carry around my iPhone, too.

Since I bought an iPad, my dream has been to rid myself of the small brick in my pocket. Now, I feel like I am getting closer to living that dream.

The Software: Skype

Skype is a standard tool for me. I use it for:

  • Group calls during online gaming sessions
  • Long calls between friends who have Skype
  • Video conferencing so the grandparents can see my son
  • Text chat when audio interferes with my surroundings

I also tried out the pay-per-month unlimited calling to voice lines, but found that anyone I talked to on it also had Skype available.

Informal testing of the Microsoft LiveCAM HD on a Windows 7 PC vs. the iPad as-is resulted in equal audio quality results. The listener did not know that I had switched from one device to another. Yes, the iPad has a built in mic.

Skype sells phone numbers, too. With this, someone is able to call my Skype account from a standard phone. This is great! However, as of August 18th, 2010, I cannot get a Canadian number.

The Service:

Ring2Skype is a free service, which allows you to assign phone numbers to your Skype account.

They offer the same thing as Skype, but the caveat is that I get an extension number, tacked on the end. That is 604-222-1234 ext 123. Many people are used to businesses having extensions, but it does not fly too well with calling from a contact list or forwarding from your real mobile number.

The big win is that Ring2Skype solves the problem in Step 1. Canadian numbers are available.

Even better, I can add multiple phone numbers! For example: My parents live in Winnipeg, so I added a 204 area code number. Now, they can call with no long distance concerns.

Note: In my minimal testing, audio quality is not as good as a regular mobile phone. I am not sure if this is because of the routing of Ring2Skype, or inherit in the Skype service. Skype is usually good though, so I think the former is at fault.

The Wall: Multitasking

Everything goes great until I go back to the home screen or use another app, on the iPad. When I do either of these things, Skype freezes in the background and I lose the call. It also means that I cannot receive calls!

This is why multitasking has value on a mobile device.

Unfortunately, the iOS 4 does not run on the iPad yet (I smell a conspiracy!)

The Solution: Backgrounder

I have played with Jailbreak utilities before on my iPhone 3G. I add useful tools, but in return, the phone is almost unbearably slow. The reason I attribute to this is the lack of RAM (128MB) and a process manager called SBSettings.

As of this writing, in the US, Jailbreaking your phone is now legal. I am sure that Apple will fight it, but here we are today and I can tell you where the real value is.

I used to do the dirty work for me. It is the easiest tool I have tried. You can do it: go to the website with your iPad and slide the unlock switch at the bottom of the page. Done. Wow.

Note: Currently, you need to do the Jailbreak with an OS version of 3.2.1. Cydia has a patch for the PDF flaw available, if that is still a concern.

Now, follow these steps to put everything together:

  1. Go to the new Cydia icon.
  2. pick the GUI+command line option.
  3. Update everything when it asks.
  4. Touch “Featured Packages”
  5. Slide down to “Free Extensions.”
  6. Select “Backgrounder” and install that.
  7. Press the home button and your iPad will reboot (don’t panic!)
  8. Find the Backgrounder icon and press it.
  9. Select “Overrides”
  10. Press the “Add” button in the upper right corner.
  11. Find Skype, Press that.
  12. You are taken back to the Overrides app list.
  13. Select Skype from this list.
  14. Set Backgrounding Method to “Backgrounder”
  15. Set all of the switches below to “ON”

You now have Skype running as a foreground app (true multitasking!), unless you specifically shut it down.

When Skype is running, you will see a small round “wheel” on the icon. Try to browse and call your Skype. Check!

Now, turn off the iPad. Wait… wait for it… okay, now call it. Voila!

Conclusion: Have I Met My Goal?

Yes, I have. I now have an iPad that I can use as a “real” phone.

Unfortunately, I did find one more problem. I paired a Bluetooth headset with the iPad, but did not find a way to use it as the primary audio device for Skype.

This means that you have to use it as a speakerphone or connect the standard wired iPhone audio cable. I do not find this an elegant solution.

If you find solutions to this problem and a non-extension based Canadian phone number system, I want to hear about it!

Until then, I continue my quest for a unified mobile device!