Next time your phone says Skype has been updated, brace yourself for some big changes. Microsoft has totally redesigned their video calling app, turning it into something that resembles the other major messaging apps out there, like Facebook Messenger, Line, or Viber. Emoji will figure more prominently.
The change really is from the ground up — for the first time, Skype won’t be structured around video calls. Instead, it’ll put text conversations front and center, like the other messaging apps. At first blush, it most resembles Facebook Messenger, bringing in emoji reactions to individual messages. But, because differentiation is key, Skype has a little something extra — the color of the speech bubbles can be customized! OK yeah Messenger has that, too, but Skype’s colors are bright and shiny and you can do gradients, so there’s that.
Like Microsoft Office programs, Skype will also benefit from add-ins, which again work in the same way as they do with other chat apps — they let you quickly drop in gifs, YouTube videos, games, polls, and all that good stuff. Rote, but there’s one wrinkle here that makes Skype genuinely relevant — it’ll work with chatbots to help people order pizzas.
It’s true that sort of chatbot hasn’t caught on. The intriguing part is that the new set of voice-activated Cortana Skills are based on this chatbot platform, which would make Cortana integration with Skype a lot more powerful. Cortana came to Skype last year to work with those bots using text, but we’re thinking Microsoft is far from done.
And of course, no self-respecting chat app is complete without cribbing at least a little from Snapchat. Skype will also introduce Highlights, which are basically Stories. You can do emoji reactions on those, too.
Now’s probably a good time to mention that a lot of people were still using Skype for professional purposes. Considering that this update will eventually come to desktop and mobile, it seems like Microsoft is maybe giving those enterprise users a not-so-subtle nudge towards Skype for Business (which actually isn’t Skype, but a rebranded Microsoft Lync) for those professional video chats.
Regardless, this update still doesn’t seem to address the most pressing Skype question — what’s the deal with all the spam? At this point, no chat app is safe from the occasional spam message, but they seem to be more frequent on Skype. Nothing in the update seems to address that, which is bad, but at least you can dress up those spam messages in different colors now!
The update will come to Android phones first, and will gradually roll out to iOS, Mac, and Windows 10 over the next few months.