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6 things Microsoft needs to do to fix Skype (or at least improve it)

At one time the word Skype was ubiquitous with online communication. To this day, some people still say they'll "Skype" you even if they're using a different service. But that time is in the rearview, and the online communication world is driving away quickly.

Messaging services like WhatsApp and Facebook now have video and voice calling while still providing online messaging, and other platforms like Discord dominate areas that Skype could have entered but never expanded into.

Microsoft has some major work to do if it wants Skype to be competitive. Here are six ways Microsoft could improve Skype to help it compete.

(Note: In this article, I focus on the consumer versions of Skype rather than Skype for Business.)

1. Bring SMS relay to more platforms

Skype has had an odd history with SMS messaging. A messaging app briefly existed that allowed you to send Skype messages and SMS texts within the same app on Windows 10 Mobile, but Microsoft got rid of it in favor of SMS relay. This allows you to send and receive SMS texts through your PC by relaying them through Skype, which is great ... except for the fact that it only works on a dead platform.

Windows 10 Mobile is the only phone OS that currently supports SMS relay, and though Microsoft didn't hold a public funeral for its mobile efforts, it killed them, or at least that version of them. Microsoft has discussed bringing SMS relay to Android devices, but it still hasn't arrived, even in beta. This effectively makes SMS relay a nonexistent feature.

SMS is still one of the most popular ways to message people, especially in the U.S., and being able to text people this way from any device that has Skype would be a dream. It would also give Skype a unique feature that the company could advertise as a differentiator between it and other platforms.

2. Modernize the interface

Skype's interface hasn't aged well. It certainly doesn't look as bad as some legacy apps that haven't made any changes since the mid-2000s, but it also doesn't look as crisp and modern as it should. It's received some updates, but I don't think they've gone far enough. I'd love to see Skype take design cues from GroupMe, which happens to be owned by Skype. GroupMe has a clean look with little distraction, and it's focused on maximizing screen real estate. I think Skype could easily adapt this style and incorporate a few buttons for features like video calling and screen sharing.

Skype recently got a visual overhaul on some versions, such as Android and the classic version on Windows. I think some of the design changes were good, like adding a dark theme, but other choices made people want to return to older versions. The biggest issue for me with the newer design is the fact that performing some tasks involves extra swiping and tapping. Sending GIFs is awkward, and I don't think this look is the final solution for Skype's interface issues. Also, this new look never came to the UWP version on Windows 10 which is confusing, to say the least.

Ultimately, I think Skype still needs a lot of work in the looks department. Its graphics are outdated, and the interface doesn't look modern.

How to install Skype Preview for desktop on Windows 10 Creators Update

3. Focus on messaging

While Skype earned its name as a video calling platform, many use it and similar services for messages. Skype needs to lean into this type of audience and give them the features and layout they're used to.

Skype's messaging engine seems outdated. I don't have many issues with reliability, but it's a common complaint among many of my friends and colleagues. When people send messages, they want them to send instantly and reliably. A message coming noticeably later than it was sent can mess up an entire conversation, and when there are options that don't have this issue, why would someone choose to message through Skype?

Skype also seems to struggle with deleting messages. Even when you select to remove contents, they seem to have the ability to pop up from the cloud. In a world where people send self-destructing messages and rely on having end-to-end encryption, it's obvious that privacy and being able to delete content is important.

When you delete something, it should be deleted forever, and when you send something, it should send and show up across all of your devices.

4. Stop creating more versions of Skype

When it comes to apps and services, generally quality beats quantity. Microsoft has multiple versions of Skype available on Windows 10 and doesn't seem to be focusing on one or the other. The classic version of Skype is still around and getting updates and new features, despite the fact that there is a Universal Windows Platform (UWP) version available on all Windows 10 devices. I understand that it takes time to transition every feature from the classic version into the UWP version, but Microsoft doesn't seem fully committed to leaving the classic version behind.

Though the problem is most pressing on Windows 10, it isn't limited to Microsoft's OS. Skype and Skype Lite are on mobile platforms, and Microsoft tried to make a Snapchat clone with Skype Qik. Microsoft can't seem to commit to a unified Skype, and it's hindering their ability to deliver a great experience across platforms.

Apart from having multiple versions of Skype, Microsoft also has multiple apps that overlap with Skype. The upcoming Your Phone will let people text message from their PC but won't replace Skype SMS relay. Group Me is owned by Skype and even plays nice with people who are using SMS messaging but is completely separate from Skype. Microsoft needs to consolidate the versions of Skype and features into a more streamlined platform to improve usability and lessen confusion.

5. Make it easy to find people

Finding people you know on Skype can be an adventure. It's not that hard if you already have someone in your contacts or if your friend has a unique name but if your friend is named John Smith, you're going to have to fish through a plethora of profiles to find the one you're looking for.

It's gotten better over the years, but finding someone on Skype still feels a bit like I'm trying to find someone's account on AIM messenger.

6. Extend it to other Microsoft services

Microsoft has a plethora of services that have messaging built into them including Skype, Xbox, and LinkedIn. I'd love an option to use Skype as a cross-service Microsoft messenger that brings all of my messages from any Microsoft app into one place. Of course, some people would hate this, so it would be best to have an option to turn it on or off.

And it would be great to have the ability to merge conversations the same way that Outlook merges contacts.

Skype is in a sorry state ...

Generally, I try to stay even-keeled in my articles but the mismanagement of Skype is infuriating. It seems like Microsoft bought Skype, gutted the parts that it needs for Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business and left consumer Skype to die a slow death. Skype lacks critical features that its competitors have, it has an old design that hasn't been updated enough no matter how many versions of Skype Microsoft releases, and it isn't reliable for many users.

I'm not sure that Skype will ever regain its top spot when it comes to communicating online. The likes of WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Discord, Telegram, and Apple's offerings have taken over the market and have quite a few features that make it difficult for users to switch back to Skype. For Microsoft to have any hope of regaining market share, it needs to fill these gaps that exist between Skype and its competitors.

Sean Endicott
Sean Endicott

Sean Endicott is the news writer for Windows Central. If it runs Windows, is made by Microsoft, or has anything to do with either, he's on it. Sean's been with Windows Central since 2017 and is also our resident app expert. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com.

54 Comments
  • I don't disagree with this assessment. I WANTED to use Skype as my SMS client, but it was horribly inconsistent and slow. Likely, this is because it's not a NATIVE function of the app, compared to Messaging. For me, 100% hands-free use is critical. As far as I'm concerned, I should never HAVE to pick up my device to interface with it. So, instead of having a stupid Cortana Bot, they should be making sure that "Hey, Cortana" can work with Skype, seamlessly, on ANY platform. But, then, this would require Sotero and Co. to actually get off their butts and get serious with Cortana working on the other platforms in TRUE hands-free fashion. Which, they seem to not care about.
  • Agreed
  • If they have any interest in fixing Skype, they would have done so long ago.
  • Yup. Skype is pretty much dead. Discord will take over.
  • It's not like Skype 4 Biz is some golden child getting preferential treatment. They cant even get the basics like having screen share in a meeting use the UI space effectively or not have the user heads icons overlap the screen share...
  • Wasn't that a problem with Lync as well?
  • Wasn't Skype for Beeswax just a rename of Lync? I was under the impression that it really had nothing to do with Skype in the first place.
  • this all the way:
    6. Extend it to other Microsoft services: skype, xbox ,
  • I can't imagine anyone disagreeing with this article. Skype is in a sorry state, and that's one big reason everyone is nervous when Microsoft acquires stuff.
  • Microsoft acquiring stuff is the equivalent of "your dog went to live on a big, beautiful farm". Sounds good, but is horrible in reality.
  • It's weird because sometimes MS buys something and it goes really well. I think Beam/Mixer has been a positive purchase. Mixer is a good service that's gaining features and I think some of their tech will be used by other MS projects in the future. Then you have things like Skype....
  • My biggest problem with Skype is reliability. It's only getting worse. Notifications fail to deliver, delayed messages.
    The UI is pretty OK on android and I wouldn't say other messaging apps have more features. Especially since Skype is one of the few, and I think it was the first, which allowed me to edit messages. Whatsapp still can't edit messages.
    As for SMS, I really don't care about them, I don't mind if they don't integrate them.
  • That's my biggest issue with Skype. I rarely get notifications of new messages on iOS or Windows 10. If it won't even tell me that, I miss important Skype messages all the time. Very poor experience.
  • I had this problem briefly spanning a period of a couple of weeks a few months ago following some clearly buggy updates, but they've all been fixed for me for a while now. I get SMS properly on 3 connected PC's from my one Windows Phone, all messages appear on all clients at the same time. I use it regularly for both video and audio calls, with individuals and groups. I also use Slack (video and audio), Skype for Business (mostly just audio), and with some people, Google Hangouts. I find regular consumer Skype to be the most reliable of the bunch.
  • The message coming in late or never is the biggest issue for me. This comment section is laggy.
  • Microsoft takes so long to get their act together other platforms introduce a feature first and then leaves them behind. My suggestion is just to move onto Discord for everything if you want a feature put it in feedback.discordapp.com and get a large number of people together just to click the vote button and they will add it eventually. Although there is a couple suggestions that been there for 3 years maybe longer. As long as if you put something there that has around 100,000 votes there is a better chance that they will add it. They were really good with that system in the past not sure why you need so many votes now.
  • Agree 100%
  • Good article. I was a heavy Skype user in 2008-2010. I remembered using it for video calls and using MSN messenger for messaging. The combination worked well until Microsoft decided to discontinue MSN messenger and tell people to move to Skype. I think that was the downhill since Skype did not have great messaging UI and features in the first place. It created an opportunity for other services to come in. I, together with others, started using other apps for instant messaging such as facebook Messenger and LINE. The problem is Microsoft still did not learn from that mistake and still tell us to move our a** to where they want us to be.
  • We use Skype at work including all of our virtual meetings. It is terrible compared to when we used to use WebX. Users get kicked out of meetings frequently, screen sharing will freeze up and they only way to fix it is kill Skype and restart it. IM works OK, but that is about it.
  • Interesting, I use Skype for Business everyday, and multiple times a day and almost never the above mentioned issues. Are you sure your IT doesn't have screwed up images or other issues? I think most of the issues I have seen is directly related to poor network connections. The worst problems I did have were directly related to my ISP. I yelled at Comcast, and they came out and balanced the network in my neighborhood and it resolved the majority of problems I saw.
  • > I use Skype for Business everyday As someone mentioned elsewhere in the comments -- Skype for Business is *not* Skype, it is rebranded Lync, warts and all. > Are you sure your IT doesn't have screwed up images I am sure we do not have "screwed up images" :) Lync (2010 -> 2013 -> Skype for Business) had fair share of issues: freezing, stuck status, dropped conversations, synchronizing between multiple sessions, etc.
  • I do believe they are going to can Skype for Business too and replace it with Teams. More mass confusion.
  • They need to fix all the bugs, crashes, and performance issues on SFB.
  • SFB works pretty good if you're using the Office 365 services. I never see any crashes, bugs or performance issues. Most of the problems that I am aware of are associated to network issues. Can you be a bit more specific on the bugs you experience?
  • You must be joking or out of your mind. Its the most crippled POC ever put out
  • I'm at a large company with SFB rolled out to every site across the country. Works fine for us--messaging, group chats, screen sharing, etc.--and we are not using Office 365. We do have our own SFB/Lync servers, though, so that might be the difference in experience. That said, I never really jumped aboard Skype for my own stuff. I was ready to about the time MSN Messenger went away, and then Microsoft made a huge mess with account management (I purposely do not use my Microsoft Account for anything except managing Microsoft services I use). Skype on my devices: always installed, yet never used.
  • Why Microsoft can't do better with Skype? Or at least say that it is coming a new all integrated version, like Discord?
  • Does anyone from Microsoft even read these responses about their products? I have 1/4 of a million reasons to complain and that comes in the form of Microsoft stock ownership, but even I don't have a voice of influence on these issues. I get a crappy vote when it comes to leadership, but zero influence on where their consumer division is screwing things up.
  • Same here with my shares...
  • I'm so jealous … you have (1/4 million) * ($100) = $25 million worth of MSFT stock. You might have enough to fund a start up to compete in this area, and wait for MSFT to buy you out.
  • Well they could also stress the availability of Skype numbers to replace landlines. I've just switched to an ISP providing broadband without the need for a landline and skype number is great to give to older relatives who don't use mobiles much and who still want a conventional telephone number to call you on. Even there though they have recently removed the ability to have a personalised voicemail message which is making me think of dumping them for a general VOIP provider.
  • 4) Stop creating other versions
    6) Extend Skype to Xbox LinkedIn etc Just no. Get the basics right before thinking about implementing Skype across other platforms, which will probably raise lots more reliability issues. Agree with everything else, being a heavy Skype user. And to think that the Skype team got an Emmy award for Engineering. That's about the same as Bush's peace Nobel. The Emmy was for consumer broadcasting integration. The broadcasting feature of Skype, however, never surfaced. It's only a promise on blog posts by Skype themselves. Not only it never came true, but it was also meant for the desktop version of Skype only - that one they killed and then decided to make available again. The UWP version is still a good-looking toy.
  • I'll say it....What else is new? Skype is on the chopping block, along with Cortana...
  • The supposed decision by Gates and Nadella to not buy Whatsapp and bet on Skype instead is looking as silly now as it did then. Frankly, whoever's been involved in the Skype team the last 5-10 years should be shown the door and a competent team assembled.
  • They should admit defeat and kill it already. There is no coming back from it.
  • Nah, they just need to shut it down and walk away from skype as they do with most good things. It's the Nadella way.
  • If Apple ever produced iMessage for Android then Skype is probably dead. So time is not on its side.
  • If apple ever produced apple search, which is more likely IMO, google would lose a third of it's total profits (which is also a more significant proposition, because search is basically the only thing google has monetized). Skype doesn't count for anything really in terms of profits, and neither does imessage.
  • Old design, maybe UWP, but mobile version is pretty modern. The only thing I would improve is speed.
  • Oh, and it doesn't fill my phone with bunch of photos people sending me. I choose which picture to save. That great feature for me.
  • Personally, I still use a
    Skype for calls whenever I can. *Nothing* can beat Skype's audio quality, like seriously, nothing comes close. Discord doesn't have any kind of noise cancellation. With Discord when you aren't talking, you're on mute. When you are talking, I can even hear another person from the other side of the room that is simply breathing. With Skype, on W10M/PC/Surface Pro 4 device, I can have music blasting or playing something with volume, the person on the call only hear me just *me* speaking when I do it.
  • Yeah, you are absolutely right about this. The noise cancellation software in Skype is 100 percent superior to anything. It's quite advanced. This is why I have never really considered using other platforms - it's generally a bad experience.
  • 7. Fix the crappy presence controls. Many of us want to set ourselves as away or busy but still want to get messages so people know we're reachable. Do not disturb is when i'm in meetings or at the cinema etc. Right now we have available, invisible (they removed offline in a recent update - so you had offline and invisible smh) and do not disturb on the mobile apps and uwp app. But can set ourself away or busy on desktop application. It's not too difficult to re-add two more statuses to mobile apps and uwp apps smh.
  • Shame on MS for ruining the once King and most respected of online messaging and video/voice chat apps. It makes me so mad.
  • Skype was originally designed for PCs, using P2P model. It's the biggest problem in mobile phones. Microsoft has changed Skype to Client-Server model now. But it's too late.
  • Well I have a few suggestions including one that would make Skype (possibly under a different name for branding purposes) the kind of instant messaging. Will Microsoft listen? Nope.
  • Sometimes I wonder if making app/programs with the new framework is too difficult. I have been a developer for more the 30 years, finding great joy in developing programs. I don't feel that joy anymore. The fact that it seem to take Microsoft "forever" to update some of their apps/programms to UWP make me feel that I'm into something. On the other hand, it may just be me that is getting old. :-)
  • IDK, I find messengers video chat to be a frigging horrible experience, and I'd never use WhatsApp for a video call either. Everyone I know uses Skype (my freinds are all normies), and no one I know uses facetime or discord or google hangouts. Seems to be that the last two are primarily tech hungry internet fiends like bloggers, gamers and youtubers. Some less tech inclined folk will use messenger, but god it's awful, if I can dissuade anyone from using that I will. I will agree with many of the points though - the messaging delays, the UI, the needlessly many versions, and the increasingly competitive video chat market. I don't really think for a moment that discord will be a hit with the normies though. More like some of them might use messenger or WhatsApp - not so much because it has better features, or better UI, but because it's already in front of them. And that to me, would seem like the real solution - package skype with windows, and refine the messaging service to use on smartphones. Much like what MSFT did with the search bar to gain some search marketing share, I think it's primarily about visibility (and related to that, it's slightly inferior feel as a messenging platform). Skypes noise cancellation algorithm is unparalleled, and video chat quality wise, everything else is an inferior experience because of this. Which is pretty good evidence it has nothing to do with the video platform component at all, or the UI (don't tell me WhatsApp or messenger are particularly modern looking or have great features).
  • I'd add... the ability to send and receive Audio messages. Walkie Talkie!
  • also... yes totally wish SMS was easier on Skype. Would like to send AND receive SMS. So many times I would like to send a text to someone from my laptop, and receive a reply on my laptop, and don't feel like getting up to go get my phone. Not so much a problem during the day at work, because I have my phone constantly at my side. But at home when the phone is left charging and I'm in the TV room with the laptop at my side.
  • All Skype has to do is make itself as easy to use as WhatsApp. Which also happens to be free. Oh, and provides good Help
  • Just another example of a market they owned at one time. They ignored it and let it turn to ****. It is infuriating!
  • It's rare that I agree with such an article so wholeheartedly. Skype is in a terrible state, not helped by the fractured mess that is their management. It seems the last few years for Skype has been a cluster of new ideas that are barely implemented, old designs that are inconsistently updated, and a backend that consistently becomes more and more unreliable as time goes on. Skype's fractured condition is only rivaled by Google's repeated attempts to crack the messaging app formula, but at least Google's offerings are all relatively high quality and reliable. Skype is being replaced by even other Microsoft products, and there's no reason for it. My company is replacing Skype for Business with Microsoft Teams, and although I haven't had any huge issues with Skype for Business, we all fully expect Teams to be a far superior experience. That's a huge problem. Microsoft's own products should never be competing with each other, unless it's the question of use case (i.e., Surface Laptop vs. Surface Pro).
    Microsoft needs to hit the reset button, and this company-wide reorganization better reach all the way to the core of the Skype team. Kill every app that isn't the default Skype app on every platform (keep the win32 classic Skype for the time being, but put it on the back-burner) and focus on creating a cross-platform application that looks the same, acts the same, and works the same no matter where you use it. Minecraft does this better than Skype does, and that's deplorable. Utilize Fluent Design (which is actually a beautiful design language), and make it happen. Focus on a secure, solid foundation and build your features upon that. Your app should be reliable first, then you focus on filling it with the features we've all been asking for. Everyone knows what Skype is. Nobody uses it. Change that.
  • Point 4. and 6..... Yes, Please!? All other points rightfully so too. The state of skype is bad. It's a pity, becasue skype, just like microsoft is a household brand. I don't get it why they invest in new platforms like groupme and Teams. They should put those teams to skype and make one great product.