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Microsoft’s Skype team is releasing Skype 5.0 for iPhone today, a complete rebuild of the video, audio, and chat communication application. We’ve spent some time with a preview version of the app, and as frequent Skype users, we were happy to see some pretty impressive performance improvements along with a revamped design.
With the new version, Microsoft is targeting three key attributes that differentiate Skype 5.0 from its predecessor: speed, navigation, and intelligence. We’ll take a quick look at each of these areas in relation to the Skype 4.17 that is currently shipping.
Depending on how you use Skype, some of the changes in Skype 5.0 may not be important to all users. However, in terms of performance, everyone who launches the new app will notice the difference. On our test iPhone 5s, a cold launch of Skype 4.17 takes about 5 seconds, while a cold launch of Skype 5.0 takes just over 1 second. That’s not huge for those who only use the app occasionally, but frequent Skype users will appreciate the improvement.
In terms of app usage, Skype 5.0 also feels noticeably snappier (cue the Safari jokes), with recent chats and contact info pages loading almost instantly. Skype 4.17 wasn’t far behind in these areas, but it always felt half a second slower than its replacement.
In connection with speed improvements, there is smoother navigation, which makes using the application faster and easier with just the swipe of your thumb or finger. Those who have used Skype on other platforms will instantly recognize the changes; Skype 5.0 brings to the iPhone the same modern interface that Microsoft has already introduced in Android and Windows Phone. The main sections are listed at the top of the app and can be changed with a swipe to the right or left. When a user swipes their finger, an aesthetically pleasing cloud animation flows in the background, but disappears to make room for vertical scrolling.
Users can enter chats and calls with a tap, but quickly navigate backward with the swipe of their finger. Combine this with the speed improvements mentioned above and you end up with a stylish overall experience.
Perhaps best of all, group chats can now be started directly from the mobile app itself, something that has been a frustrating omission in previous versions. IOS users could always participate in an existing group chat, but until now those groups had to be created on the desktop version of Skype (or one of the mobile versions already updated on other platforms). With Skype 5.0, users just need to tap the chat button and then select the desired participants from their contact list. A new favorites list, one of the main categories of navigation, also makes it easier and faster to contact friends and family.
Longtime Microsoft watchers will recognize the experience as clearly Windows (although it’s fair to say this style of navigation dates back to the Zune), but the overall styling, color palette, and “button-free” selection points fit the bill perfectly. in the iOS 7. era of Apple’s mobile design.
As we noted earlier, the Skype 5.0 for iPhone skin has already found a home in the Skype apps for Android and Windows Phone. By bringing this updated version to iOS, the Skype team is one step closer to unifying the Skype experience across the multitude of devices and platforms that users of the service access every day.
But a unified experience is about more than looks, and this new version of Skype for iPhone features a smarter foundation, built on the understanding that the average Skype user is likely to access the service from more than one type of device.
For example, if you participate in a group chat on your desktop and then open the chat on your iPhone, the new app will sync your reading position in the chat and take you right where you left off. Also, if you receive and clear a notification on one device, the notification will automatically clear on your other devices, so you don’t get stuck rereading notifications just because you switched devices.
Notifications can now also be managed by chat, giving users the option to disable them for less important chats. This is in stark contrast to the all-or-nothing approach to notifications found in Skype 4.17.
The Skype update on the iPhone isn’t surprising in light of the current climate of mobile messaging apps and services. Once the biggest name in town, Skype is now challenged by an increasingly capable Apple messaging app, Facebook’s WhatsApp, Snapchat, and a multitude of smaller services, yet Skype 4.17 was built on a foundation. code that was over 4 years old. In perspective, that makes it as old as iOS 4. As Eric Lin from Skype told us, “I can’t even remember what iOS 4 was like or what it was like, that’s how old it is.”
And so Skype 5.0 is not just a new version for the sake of a new version, it is a complete rebuild that will act as the foundation for the future of the service on iOS. In fact, the company is already looking to iOS 8, and the new Skype 5.0 codebase will allow it to more quickly integrate new operating system features once it launches this fall.
Skype 5.0 for iPhone, along with its counterparts on Android and Windows Phone, is also key to the company’s goal of “putting conversations first.” From the ability to initiate individual and group chats directly from the phone, to the ease of managing existing chats, and the overall smooth and fluid user experience, the new Skype is really about getting out of the way. As Mr. Lin described it, “We don’t want people to launch Skype to use Skype, we want them to launch Skype because it is the best way to communicate with their friends, family and colleagues.”
And our experience with the new app so far has shown that Microsoft’s Skype team has been largely successful in their mission. At TekRevue, we rely on Skype every day, and Skype 5.0 for iPhone is the best version yet. The only thing missing from the new version is support for SMS text messages, which the company removed to simplify the code and experience. However, with a full-featured SMS and MMS experience in Apple Messages, we can’t say we’ll lose the feature on Skype.
Those who want to try the latest version of Skype for iPhone should be able to find version 5.0 on the iOS App Store shortly, although readers should note that the version optimized for iPad currently on the App Store is still version 4.17. The company promises that an iPad version of Skype 5.0 is on the way, with a release date “in the next few months.”
To update [2014-06-16]: Many readers have asked about the ability to clear chat history, which is actually missing from Skype 5.0. We asked a Skype spokesperson about the omission and the company provided the following statement:
As with all versions of Skype, we will continue to update Skype for iPhone to provide the best possible experience for our users. We understand your concern regarding the disappearance of this feature and will be reintroducing it to the app shortly. As always, keep sending feedback and help us create the best Skype experience for you.
Update 2 [2014-06-19]: Microsoft updated Skype to version 5.1 today. The ability to delete recent chats is back (long press the conversation in the “Recent” list to delete it), along with an option to edit sent messages (press and hold the message in a chat to edit it). Users can now also add favorites directly from the “Favorites” screen in the hub, and the update notes cite VoiceOver improvements and general fixes.
The images in this article not captured by TekRevue were provided by Skype. The multi-device mockup is courtesy of MediaLoot.
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