The world is getting smaller by the day, since the advent of satellites. People have moved away from the expensive mobile phones to more elegant voice over Internet solutions like Skype. The fact that, more than 200 billion minutes of calls using Skype last year alone should speak volumes about its awesomeness.
When Redmond acquired Skype out of the blue for $8.5 bn a couple of years back people started seeing the next tech bubble. However it made a lot of business sense, in the wake of Google and Facebook virtually rooting MS from the IM market, until they completely botched it up. They missed several opportunities to tie Skype with their platform. Even weirder, there wasn’t an official release for their flagship Windows Phone 7 till late summer last year while there was back to back releases on iOS and Android platforms.
When Windows 8 was due, an acute app crunch was looming over their heads and had to dust off something from their own labs. Enter Skype Metro.
Skype has become a communication powerhouse and has come a long way since its inception. With more than 660 million active users and 115 billion minutes of voice calls last quarter alone, it wouldn’t hurt to say that Skype is an effective replacement for telephones. Although that sounds awesome the company has had a shaking history. Back in 2005 eBay acquired them to enhance their communication portfolio for $2.6 billion. But that went nowhere and they were forced to throw away their stocks for $2 billion. Around this time Google and Facebook were threatening to completely erode Microsoft from the Internet game and Redmond was desperate enough to buy Skype nearly 4 times its estimated worth. Would this prove an efficient strategy for them? Well, I think so.
Microsoft makes most of its money from Communication (Lync and Outlook) at the enterprise level. But with smartphones becoming incredibly business friendly and every major player rolling out their own ecosystem, there was only so much Redmond could do to stay in the game. Skype is not limited to a specific platform unlike other apps. It cuts across the enemy lines and gives Microsoft the consumer base that they so desperately need. Another advantage is that Skype is very well established and wouldn’t be so easy to replace.
Just like IE10, Skype comes in 2 flavors: Metro and Desktop. However unlike other apps in the ecosystem, you’ll need to install each individually. Once you grab the metro side of Skype from the Windows Store, you are automatically logged in with your Windows account. Well with Windows 8, Skype is integrated with your Microsoft account. Once the setup is done it is pretty much a cake walk from there.
Skype’s Metro interface is a bliss. All the contacts are listed right on the home screen along with the call history making it easily accessible. The call screen, in particular, has got a beautiful Metro redesign. All the control buttons now have a Metro-ish look and are neatly stacked up to the left. I particularly love the full screen mode where everything else disappears and the focus rests where it should be.
Skype’s performance is brilliant. Now that it has been integrated with the ecosystem, the application runs much faster. The quality ,together with the clarity of picture and sound, especially over long distances, is phenomenal. In case your network quality is bad or you don’t have a reliable microphone installed, you can still share your messages through text . If you prefer, you can also dock Skype on the side of the screen, like any other Metro app. With it just occupying one thirds of your screen, you have a lot of room for other stuff.
Skype’s reliability is worth mentioning here. It is by far the most stable application(Yes, I’m looking at you gTalk) that I have ever seen. I am a Skype user since 2004 and I can’t remember the last time when it crashed or a call dropped. Another interesting thing that grabbed my attention was its low memory footprint.
Overall the User Experience is great, and in fact a tad better than the desktop version.
The Metro version of Skype is still in its infancy. Many features are still missing. It is obvious that Ballmer is pushing for a tighter coupling with enterprises in mind. But the half cooked integration’s with the people hub and mail doesn’t do them any good. And since your Microsoft account is well integrated, you cannot use multiple handles anymore.
Another thing that bothers me is that Skype doesn’t ship with 8 by default. We’ll have to manually install it. Considering it is tied up with the Windows account, it doesn’t make any sense to me. If MS can bundle IE10 and Music apps, they should certainly push Skype to the mainstream.
And the multiple versions: one from the Store and other from the Skype website, adds some confusion to the process. I hope they take a leaf out of Chrome and rectify this with the next update. Also if I have to upgrade my account or buy credits I need to visit their website rather than letting me purchase in house.
To conclude Skype is an excellent piece of work. It constantly amazes me how Skype handles most of difficult tasks with apparent ease where others have constantly failed. The paid version costs a fortune but well worth it if you’re a heavy user.
That is not to say it is not without any problems. There are several technical glitches and design gaps that dampen the experience. Hopefully MS can wriggle them out soon enough.