Microsoft acquired Skype nearly six years ago, and ever since then it feels like the messaging service has been experiencing an existential crisis. Skype has been slowly transitioning from a peer-to-peer service to the cloud, and it’s been a bumpy ride with many design changes and issues. While Microsoft has managed to add features like free group video calling and Skype for Web, the software giant has struggled with the design and feature set of Skype as it attempts to compete with challengers like FaceTime, Messenger, WhatsApp, and more.
Microsoft is once again redesigning Skype today.
Described as “the next generation of Skype,” the new design focuses on messaging. Skype is well known and used widely for video and audio calls, but iMessage, WhatsApp, Messenger, Snapchat and other messaging services have taken the lead for today’s conversations. The new Skype messaging interface now includes three sections in a conversation: find, chat, and capture. Find lets you search through a conversation, or find images, restaurants, and even add-ins like YouTube or Giphy to add content into a message. Chat is the basic conversation view you’d expect with options for emoji or picture additions, but the newest section is capture.
Capture feels a lot like Snapchat within Skype, and it immediately launches into the camera to let you take pictures or hold down for video. As you hold down for video you’ll immediately recognize one of the more subtle design changes in this new version of Skype, a squiggly line that represents the amount of time for a recording. This line is also used for calling, or when contacts are typing. Once you’ve captured a video or picture you can then add stickers, text, or simply annotate it, all just like Snapchat.
Skype is also introducing a new Highlights feature that’s a lot like Snapchat stories. Highlights lets you post a stream of photos and videos that friends can view and react with emoticons. Even in text- or video-based conversations you’ll be able to react on Skype with emoticons. It seems the new Skype UI is really designed to make you use more and more of the new chat features available.
Even calling is getting redesigned for this new version of Skype. You can drag and drop people around in conversations, and react with emoticons during calls. During my limited testing it felt a lot smoother than regular group video chats, but I didn’t feel the need to blast emoticons at people.
Today’s Skype design is just the latest in a long line of changes over the years. Microsoft has been trying many different ways to get people to use Skype messaging instead of competitors. Skype Qik was an attempt to take over mobile video messaging that flopped, and Microsoft has been tweaking its Skype mobile interface for years to better improve messaging. Nothing has had a big impact, and Skype is still widely used for video and audio calls. Microsoft has the user base and brand recognition for the calling part of Skype, but it’s desperate for Skype to be considered a true messaging service.
This latest redesign might help, but there’s nothing here that’s unique or new over what competitors are doing well. Thankfully, with features like a universal search and a simple user interface, the new Skype design does address some of the weird inconsistencies we’ve seen in the past. Microsoft is only rolling out the new Skype design to mobile at first, with desktop to follow soon. Android devices will first start seeing the new Skype design today, followed by iOS, Windows, and Mac.