I first set foot in Saudi Arabia in 1985. I was a young engineer with a head filled with romantic images of Peter O’Toole riding a camel across the dusty, hot wasteland. Naturally, I was a little disappointed with the Chevy Suburban my company had outfitted for members of the royal family. The Saudi princes and their cousins liked to go hunting with hawks and they needed transportation that was equipped to handle the desert. Camels would have done well enough, but a Suburban tops out on a straight desert road at about 130 MPH (more on that another day…) gas was practically free, and they had air conditioning.
Camels are much slower, stop inconveniently at random moments, smell pretty rank most days, and leave you exposed to boil your brains in the sun. Plus, our Chevy trucks were equipped with special phones that allowed a young prince to call home to let mom and dad know they were going to be late for dinner, call their investment broker, or arrange a tryst in London.
In 1985 most phones were rotary dialers and touch tone phones were had in really high end hotels and businesses. There were no cell phones. So a car with a phone that could call from the middle of the desert to any place on earth was an amazing thing. So amazing in fact, that only a rich prince could afford the luxury. The car, the phone, the radios, the talented engineers to build, test, and maintain the gear. Not $100. Not $1000. Try hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Last week I spoke with one of my clients in Cambodia. He works in the capital city of Phnom Penh. We spoke for an hour about his dysfunctional board of directors, his inexperienced management team, and his plan to navigate through a politically charged re-capitalization. Our entire conversation was held while I sat outside a coffee shop where my wife was watching a singer-songwriter perform. I was speaking on my iPhone using the Skype application, running over the free wifi that the coffee shop offered. My client sat in his office, with a headset plugged into his laptop. The call quality was crystal clear and it cost nothing.
Oh yes, I had spent $400 for my iPhone. He had spent $500 for his PC. Both devices perform many useful functions. But our call itself – free. Not one penny.
Skype on the iPhone is a beautiful thing!