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.
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.