Fring first with four-way iPad group video chat

Just last week, we saw an early glimpse of Skype’s upcoming iPad app, but today, Fring appears to be one step ahead of the game. Fring’s free Video Calls + IM app got an update Monday that brings full iPad-optimized group video chat for up to four users, and it works with any platform where Fring has presence, and on both Wi-Fi and 3G connections.

Skype’s yet-to-be released app will offer cross-platform support, and should work on any broadband data connection, but there hasn’t been any indication yet that it will support group video chat. Plus, group video is a paid option for Skype users, so even if it is offered, it won’t be available for free, as it is with Fring. One disadvantage Fring has is that it can’t be used with desktop clients, only smartphone platforms, like Android (s goog), Symbian (s nok), and iOS (s aapl).

Technically, users of the previous Fring app could make group calls on the iPad, but they had to run the app in compatibility mode, so quality and interface weren’t designed for the Apple tablet. The new version is much better, and worked great in a test call between me and my dog (he’s on the iPhone 4), as you can see in the images below.

Fring is doing a great job of staying a few steps ahead of Skype in terms of features for mobile devices. It was the first with group video calling on the iPhone, and the first with free video calling between Android devices, too. It may not have the network of Skype, but it is proving that it can hang with the best of the VoIP and video chat crowd when it comes to mobile, which is fast becoming the most important and most lucrative computing market.

I can’t help but think that Skype’s recent acquisition by Microsoft (s msft) will make it less nimble, not more so. This could mean that Fring stands a good chance of staying out ahead in the mobile space, so long as the Israel-based company can continue to successfully monetize its business through value-add purchases like FringOut credit.