Microsoft’s Skype client for iPhone has been looking a little long in the tooth; the version that has been in the store until today is essentially still the same client they launched back in 2010, albeit replete with incremental updates along the way. Not so with the new Skype version 5.0, which is redesigned from the ground up, with major changes to the interface and navigation, and big improvements to performance that should have your chats syncing faster from other platform clients, along with smarter notifications.
The redesign is focused almost entirely on user feedback, according to Skype product marketing manager Eric Lin. Skype combed through user feedback and usage data to figure out what was important to users in a mobile client, and delivered changes to the UI that put the things they were using most front-and-center, while keeping everything else close at hand thanks to a modern Windows/Windows Mobile-inspired ribbon navigation bar at the top of the app. Despite its modern Windows look, Lin said it was also important that they come up with something that feels at home on iOS, and based on my brief time using the new app, they have.
“This app is really remastered for you and the way you use Skype,” Lin said. “We take our users and our user feedback very seriously here, and pretty much every choice that we made when we created this application was really based on feedback [...] The new Skype for iPhone is rebuilt from the ground up, it’s a 100 percent rewrite, and the entire time we were writing this we had a laser focus on performance.”
Performance was not the previous Skype for iPhone’s strong suit – and Lin is the first to admit it. The new version however should bring most of your conversations into the new realm of synced notifications and read status, meaning you won’t have to wait ages for your Skype mobile client to catch up with the desktop every time you launch it. Some conversations will still need time to sync up, however, especially group chats, and Lin says that’s because they’re still in the process of switching everything over to the new backend system, which involves moving every conversation on the service from the legacy infrastructure to the new.
“That is a backend procedure that users will see updated throughout the coming months. We moved some conversations to the new system before we moved other conversations,” he said. “You alone probably have hundreds of existing conversations, and then you multiply that times our over 300 million monthly users and that’s a lot of conversations to move.”
The Skype for iPhone’s team focus was on user experience, however, and that’s why they’ve done things like focus on text conversations over video chat, and make it easy to start group conversations right from the new chat window, since group chat was one of the most common use cases for the iPhone client according to their research. There’s also a new feature that makes it possible to selectively edit how notifications are received, making it possible to turn them off or on within the app or just when you have it closed, and that’s designed to cut down on duplicate notifications across platforms.
I’m already a fan of the new Skype and what it changes over the old version. Animations throughout the interface are well done and make using the app much more pleasant. It also feels comfortable with its role as a messaging app, which used to feel like sort of an afterthought added onto the core video chat functionality. I asked Lin if he thought the increased competition in the messaging app space was a threat to Skype, and he said that he actually thinks users have plenty of room for multiple solutions that each offer different things. Over 300 million monthly active users isn’t quite WhatsApp numbers, but it is a strong showing that’s at the top end of the messaging market, and continued investment in mobile is the smartest way to grow that.
Next up for Skype is revamping the iPad app, a project which Lin says begins in earnest today now that the iPhone version has shipped. They’ve just begun to parse the data collected from user feedback and usage, and he says it’s too early to say what direction that’ll take them in, but if the iPhone edition is any indication, it should be a considerable improvement.