Microsoft Skype’s redesign is proving contentious

Skype is a contentious app among smartphone users, originating in days where everyone didn’t have a smartphone with its own built in video messaging service. Now Apple iPhones come equipped with the Facetime app and iMessage, Android comes with Duo and Allo, and users of both can opt for the vastly more popular Facebook owned Messenger and WhatsApp. It’s no wonder that Microsoft is opting to redesign Skype for a modern age, and taking influence from modern design trends.
A month or so ago, Microsoft began rolling out this new update to iPhone, Android phones, and the Windows 10 app store, with users on older versions of Windows and MacOS receiving the new Skype Preview app just this week. The new Skype ditches the classic blue of Skype offers a dark theme and support for multiple colors, adds what Microsoft terms “highlights” to the system. The traditional Skype focus on calling is de-emphasized, and users are meant to focus on chat, with calling being secondary. Microsoft even initially removed the activity beacon to emphasize the mobile nature of the app. Skype users would be “online” at every point, so you ideally wouldn’t need to care whether someone was online or not.
While I like the new Skype, both as someone who would rather get teeth pulled than make phone calls, and as someone who never really liked the way Skype looked in the past, not all users are fans of it. In fact, a vocal contingent of users actively despise the Skype app. Microsoft has rolled out the apps on Android and iOS so far, and we’ve seen a glut of single and double star reviews for the app coming in. The firm’s subsequent updates have not done much to change this.

One user writes on Google Play: “You really deserve one star for this one. What are you trying to do??? Basically, today is only one user left in Skype that I keep Skype for. I hope to convince him to switch and goodbye Skype! After so many years… You killed what once was the best VoIP app. You guys got tons of negative feedback. What are you doing with it? I didn’t see one positive comment! You will attract no new users this way, but you will definitely loose old and loyal ones!”. Yet another goes “Microsoft continues to turn Skype into a disaster… ever since turning the UI into something that looks like a drug induced hallucination with no UI structure and lots of wasted space, the performance still makes it near unusable. I think Skype is my most hated app on my phone – and some other people use it, I am forced to retain this abomination on my phone… – It really deserves zero stars”.

On the Apple App Store, it is more of the same, with a user complaining “The new look is trying to make Snapchat, Instagram or any other „trendy” eclectic app out of Skype while its primary function – communication – has been extremely impeded. Cannot see contact status anymore, cannot simply add a contact (or delete, just delete without blocking) instead I have to invite (which is de facto advertising Skype) people. Swiping for a call or video conversations, or many other functions have been dropped which is not logical considering that it’s present everywhere else in iOS interface hence is not natural anymore. Really, the new version needs lots of fixes before it can be used conveniently. Before that happens some users may just leave in favour of competitors.[sic]”

Again, another still comments: “It has taken a long time to develop a completely useless messaging service from one that was perfectly acceptable before. Can no longer see who is online so spend time messaging offline users more in hope than expectation. Was once about the best messaging services around but now less than useless. So when will this app become useable again? It should not take long to get back the online use.  Just downloaded the latest update and still no idea when a contact is online. You keep saying you are listening to users reviews but nothing is happening. I have yet to find even one positive review so are you really listening or just waiting for the moaning to go away? I refuse to do any updates on my pc until the latest edition restores the ability to see ONLINE users. That should be the actual starting point for any messaging service. Who needs to see all the people who are not available for chat anyway? Sort it, and quickly, it is rubbish.[sic]”

All these reviews leave one-star ratings.

The problem (if you can call it that) with the new Skype is that it’s trying to be something that its users don’t want it to be. People don’t use Skype to chat with their friends (trust me, I’ve tried). They use it for work, they use it for impromptu groups or group chat with strangers and the like.  Skype isn’t a trendy app, but Microsoft is trying to make it one.

Would it have been better for Microsoft to release another messaging app? Perhaps, but the firm has too many messaging services that do not talk to each other at the moment, adding one more would not work. Given the absence of Microsoft in the consumer smartphone market, and the company’s software pivot to the enterprise market and Azure, it is almost certainly to meet the fate of Skype Qik.

The new Skype is perhaps the best Skype ever, but if the majority of its audience disagrees, what’s the point?

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