Skype is getting a makeover to make it cool again

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This isn’t the Skype you remember. 


Microsoft

Skype is getting a makeover, though it’s hard to tell whether it’s cool or just trying to look cool.

Starting Thursday, the 13-year-old video conferencing and chat software, which was bought by Microsoft six years ago, is getting a radically new look that ditches the bubbly buttons that were so in two decades ago.

Instead, Skype now sports a user interface that’s an amalgamation of today’s most popular chatting apps — think Snapchat and Instagram — and that delivers a look filled with neon colors, squiggly lines and animations that feel kind of techno-meets-’80s-revival.

The changes come as Microsoft tries to keep up with its rivals in the online chat space. Skype is the fifth most popular app in the category, according to data compiled by Statista, with 200 million people using it to power 3 billion minutes of calls every day. That puts it behind WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and the Chinese chat apps QQ Mobile and WeChat. The app is free, but Microsoft makes money by charging for calls to normal phone numbers and when businesses use it for their conference calls and other communications.

When you start Skype, you’ll see a list of the people you most recently chatted with. Some of them will have squiggly neon lines under their names and profile photos. Those lines also undulate when people are typing a reply, much like when you get an empty speech bubble, moving dots or a notification someone is typing in other chat apps.

There are other changes designed to give it a new feel, too. When setting up your account, for example, you’re asked to choose colors that represent who you are.

If you swipe from the right, you’ll now get a camera for taking pictures that you can send to friends just like in Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram. When you swipe left, you’ll get a feed of photos and videos from your contacts. It’s like Facebook meets Snap/Instagram Stories, but only for your inner circle.

“We knew we had to modernize the experience,” Amritansh Raghav, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Skype, told me in a — what else? — Skype call earlier this week. (The audio and video call quality were good, by the way.)

Skype already includes features that competitors like Facebook have, such as group calling, little apps called bots that answer your questions and stickers to make you laugh. But Raghav said Skype can be more than just another messaging app you use every once in a while for free phone calls with far flung family and the occasional chat with a Microsoft executive.

“It should be the best way to experience your life together every day,” Raghav said. “It should be about sharing and chatting and creating.”

A new look but still Skype

Skype still does video, phone and text chat just like you remember — just with a fresh coat of neon paint. But Microsoft says it’s better under the hood, too.

The company changed the way Skype works to make it more reliable, moving it from being a peer-to-peer network to one where people connect to a massive centralized service. One of the benefits is better audio and video calls, while also helping more people and being more secure.

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Amritansh Raghav, Microsoft’s CVP for Skype, shows his home screen to prove Skype has become his go-to messaging and SMS app.


Ian Sherr/CNET

Microsoft also beefed up its security, though it wouldn’t provide details about the changes, and created new tools that help Skype automatically identify people in your address book you may want to regularly send messages to.

If you start a group chat with 24 of your closest friends, you can coordinate buying concert tickets or share news articles using bots from TicketMaster and MSN news. You can even share videos and photos, of course.

Raghav said Skype has become his go-to messaging app (he showed me his phone’s home screen as proof), replacing text messages, Facebook and all the rest. Of course, you’d expect him to do that.

But he thinks you will, too.

The question now is whether Skype is cool enough to lure you away from those Snaps, Instagrams, blue iMessage chat bubbles and the rest.  

The update begins Thursday for Android users as a free update to Skype’s app, then will be available in about a month for iPhones. A preview of the update for Macs and Windows computers will be released later this year.

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