If you’re a Skype user, you’ll notice an immediate difference in the appearance of the Skype 4 beta application compared to the release version you’re accustomed to.
Much more focused on all the different ways you might want to interact with your contacts, especially video, as the primary focal point for your attention.
Big green buttons for making a voice call or a video call. A clean, easy-to-use interface. Big improvements.
Also notice in this screenshot, showing what I see when I want to call my podcasting partner Shel Holtz, that the text messaging area has links beneath for sending an SMS to your contact’s mobile phone or sending a file.
Above the area where you type your text message would appear the conversation you’re in or the most recent conversation you’ve had.
All far clearer, and easier to manage compared to hunting through menus as you have to now with the release versions.
Skype 4 beta is available only for Windows at the moment.
On Wednesday, Skype held a PR briefing conference call for journalists and bloggers which I took part in. A Skype conference call (as I’d expect it to be!) via web conferencing service Yugma.
In the briefing, Don Albert, Vice President and General Manager for Skype North America, and Mike Bartlett, Head of Product Management Windows for Skype, talked through the beta release and its development.
In essence, Skype 4 is about this:
You can read what others have been reporting; here are the key points I noted from the conference call:
- Skype is projecting $500 million in revenue for 2008
- Skype has enjoyed five straight quarters of profitability
- Over 14 billion minutes of Skype-to-Skype calls have been made; on average, 28% of them have been video calls
- Skype 4 will be the biggest release in Skype’s history since version 1.0
- It represents the most fundamental change in the Skype product
- Until now, not much has really changed in the Skype application since version 1.0
- The current release versions are built just for free voice calls over the net
- This will be an extended beta period with no commitment yet to a final release date
- No support for Mac or Linux yet
- Three main problems with older versions addressed in Skype 4:
1. Finding friends
2. Making sure audio is working
3. Cluttered user interface
- Easier importing of contacts from email applications (Outlook, Outlook Express) and online services (Hotmail, Yahoo)
- It’s not been obvious how to make a video call in previous versions
- Now, everything is in “unified conversation”
I asked two questions during the Q&A session:
Q: Gmail is not shown as a contact import option.
A: Gmail support later; right now, the main focus is on the “two most popular” web-based email services.
Q: What about the ability to import contacts from social networks like Facebook and Twitter?
A: Paying attention to such services during beta programme.
I’ll post more about Skype 4 beta over on my tech blog as I use it and gain more impressions of it, especially concerning video calls.
But on first use over the past few days, it works well and is pretty stable for a first beta (no crashes at all so far).
One of the key areas Skype is addressing – making sure audio is working – has indeed fixed a big niggle I’ve always had with previous versions.
Every time I’d make a call, I’d discover that the microphone (Skype certified) wasn’t working because Skype had mysteriously lost its settings.
So if the only improvement in a new Skype version would be fixing this, I’d be happy. And so far, it’s fixed.
It’s not the only improvement but I’m happy anyway.