If you can’t beat them, dress just like them and stand right up close to them.
That seems to be the idea behind Skype’s first big makeover in more than a decade. The update, currently available on Android with iOS, Mac, and PC to follow, adds a whole new interface to Skype and seems aimed at making it more of a messaging service.
The app so famous it’s synonymous with video calling has joined Facebook in mimicking the emoji-drenched, photo sharing emphasis of Snapchat. Presumably, it’s an attempt to win over younger audiences who are born into an app store filled with video calling options, where once Skype had no real rivals.
Microsoft has gone so far as to refer to its updated app as “new Skype,” a nickname unfortunately reminiscent of Coca-Cola’s short-lived, unsuccessful experiment with “New Coke.” The new Skype does have some welcome improvements, including mre bots, a new way to find contacts, and Snapchat-style photo sharing and capture. However, those new features take the focus away from simple video calling, which is what made Skype so popular to begin with.
In our opinion, if Microsoft wanted to make Skype more relevant it should have stuck to what the app does best and improved the video calling experience itself, not the trimmings surrounding it. At least that’s our opinion. Keep reading our 2017 Skype update review to get the whole enchilada.
The Update Tries to Make Skype Fun
In unveiling the update in early June, Microsoft said the new features were the result of a long-term project. In other words, not a knee-jerk reaction to Snapchat’s runaway success.
The new interface and attitude, however, and the fact that its centerpiece new feature, Highlights, looks and acts a lot like Snapchat’s Stories give pause for thought. Not that there’s anything new in that approach, as Facebook’s own Snapchat mimicry has proved.
Motivation aside, the Highlights function does offer a new way to use Skype. It essentially allows you to send collections of photos and videos out to groups of friends simultaneously. Couple that with improved social chat functions, like new emojis and mood colors, and Skype has repositioned itself as a light messenger service. It’s now clearly being pitched more as a Snapchat, WhatsApp, or Messenger clone, trying to encourage quick but regular social use throughout the day–something more like a social media platform than a basic, go-to way to make a call.
There are also plenty of other additions to the general service:
- Swipe access to an in-app camera function
- The ability to capture images from a live video call
- A “find” panel that searches for contacts by Skype name, phone number, and email
- More chat bots that operate during message chats
- Add-ons for third party apps, like YouTube and StubHub
- The ability to share computer audio across a video call
To be totally fair, this new update isn’t completely out of the blue. Those new features are part of a broader rebuild Microsoft has undertaken over the past year in order to modernize Skype.
What Has Skype Changed in the Past?
Over the past 18 months, Microsoft has quietly pushed Skype into some pretty innovative areas.
As we talked about in our Skype translator review for PC, the platform was the first major video caller to offer a workable, if still evolving, real-time translation service within a live video chat. The service has been steadily built out with new languages and has genuine promise for breaking down language barriers. The service also has more chat bot options for video calls than many of its competitors, most notably anything Google is offering.
It has created a streamlined Skype Lite version for parts of India where internet connections are poor. And at the tail end of 2016, Microsoft introduced guest video calling for Skype, for people who don’t want to give away any personal details or create a private account. Taking a cue from WebRTC browser-based calling, it allows people to anonymously sign in to Skype and chat as easily as longtime members.
These are the kinds of innovations we want to see when Microsoft goes about launching “New Skype.” At a time when the leading social media apps are introducing video calling like Facebook Messenger, the world’s foremost video conferencing platform is scaling down to become a service for sending emojis. Here at VC Daily, we want substance, because there’s plenty of empty style being thrown about elsewhere.
Our 2017 Skype Update Review Conclusion
Despite its attempts to become trendier, Skype is still primarily a video calling service. The average Skype user–and there are 124 million a month–spends 27 minutes on a call. That’s not a user who’s just sending a quick “how great is the weather today” chat message, that’s a caller who is making an important video call, whether to a far-away spouse, a co-worker, or a collaborator.
These are the core users who may or may not embrace the new Skype, but certainly aren’t well served by the shift toward a more social service. The Skype for Business users certainly won’t think much of New Skype.
Those users could better benefit from expanding Skype’s group chat numbers, or from tech that makes it easier to maintain direct eye contact during a call, or new advances in virtual reality and augmented reality calling–things we’ve been looking forward to for a long time.
It’s a bit worrying that the onetime leader of video calling is taking a step backward toward a messaging service, albeit a pretty one, rather than surging ahead and winning new users with impressive video calling technology.