App: Skype (v. 5.1)
Platform: iOS (iPhone only, iPad coming soon)
There’s been a Skype iPhone app for a long time now. However, over the years, it hasn’t changed much. Sure, it got a slight iOS 7 facelift, and a few new features here and there, but honestly there hasn’t been much going on for about two years now. All that changed a few weeks ago. Microsoft has completely redesigned their messenger app for the iPhone (a redesigned iPad version is coming soon). Microsoft has acknowledged that there are lots of messenger apps out there, and that they want to be competitive. Skype for iPhone has gotten a huge cosmetic redo, as well as some cool new features.
The new Skype App has three screens
People, Recent, and Favorites
A group conversation
Let’s start with the look and feel. Before, the Skype app didn’t really feel special. It didn’t feel too dated, but it wasn’t super neat either. All that has changed. Microsoft has given it a modern makeover, and in my opinion they scored a home run. The app has the flat look that seems to be trendy right now, but it doesn’t exactly look like iOS 7 either. Instead, the bolder colors just scream Microsoft, and I mean that in only the best way. Through Windows 8 (and other recent products), Microsoft has crafted a new look, and props to them for successfully branding their software. There are also a lot of nice new animations in the app. When you tap on a conversation, for example, the new screen slides in quickly, then sort of “bounces” off the edge, then finally stops in place. It’s a cool feel, and you can tell someone at Microsoft put plenty of thought into little details like this.
But the new Skype isn’t all about looks either. There are lots of other new features. For as long as I’ve used Skype, it has supported both one-on-one and group messaging. iMessage also supports group threads, but most of my friends hate them. Why? Once you’re in a group, you’re stuck. Then, as other people have a conversation (which may or may not be relevant to you at all), you keep getting notifications for every single message. Skype not only allows you to leave a group (this feature has been there for awhile), but now you can also turn off notifications for specific groups or even specific contacts. (To be fair, iOS 8 will allow you to leave or mute group messaging, so Apple is fixing their problem.) The other new feature of Skype that I was really excited about is offline photo sharing. In older versions of Skype, whenever you sent a file, both you and your recipient had to be online in order for the transfer to complete. With the new app, this isn’t the case anymore – as long as both people are using the app. App to app photo transfers are seamless. However, when you send a photo from the app to someone on a computer, they get a link. When they click on the link, they can see the photo. Technically, this is “offline sharing,” but it’s hardly seamless. I was hoping that there wouldn’t be any difference on the receiving end. Unfortunately, it seems this is only the tip of the iceberg. Unbelievably, when someone on a computer sends a photo to the app, you can’t get the photo at all. Instead you get a message saying that this version of Skype doesn’t support file transfers yet. I’m sure this will get fixed, but meanwhile Microsoft could make a lot of people upset by removing a feature that they’ve had for two years.
Call quality on the new Skype is still pretty good (although Skype call quality can be hit or miss sometimes). Overall, I like the direction Microsoft is going. There are certainly some oversights, but if Microsoft is paying as much attention to its user base as it claims to be, hopefully these will get fixed soon. As someone who uses Skype on the computer every day, it’s nice to have a fresh version for my mobile devices. I just hope Microsoft is able to learn from this first version and make later ones even better. ••
Update 10/12/14: Microsoft has updated both Skype for Windows desktop and Skype for Mac to include the new photo sharing features. Oddly enough, Skype for Mac can both send and receive photos the new way, but Skype for Windows only receives them (still sending photos the old way). Skype for iPad has not been updated yet.