Focus on the conversation not the medium with Skype 4 beta

Skype, the internet phone service, has opened a public beta test of Skype 4, the next version of the software you use to make phone and video calls and do text messaging.

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.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Marc

    I’ve tried version (9 July) and removed it within minutes because I couldn’t get my work done properly with this version.

    The main reasons for this are:

    * The lack of a full “History” overview which details every chat,
    incoming/outgoing call and voice message.

    * The difficulty in finding voice messages in the history – you have to look at a call to find whether there is an associated voice message or not. The previous history showed everything in one listing, which is much easier to use.

    * Missing “EBay watched item ending now” notifications – I can’t see a way to find them in the history.

    * The delete key no longer working in the history section. You have to instead use the mouse on the “X” – This is not good for people who prefer to work mainly with the keyboard.

    * The chat interface does not allow long conversations to be easily seen on the screen.

    * The “dumbed down” appearance of the new Skype version, which seems to have permanently enabled a graphical “tour” of the product. These kind of features
    should have a tickbox to enable/disable, just like you would for “show tips at
    startup.” It reminds me of that annoying animated paperclip in Word which gets in the way at every possible opportunity…

    * The default full-screen view.

    Overall, it seems that there has been too much emphasis on “simplifying” the product, at the expense of valuable functionality which is now missing as a result.

    It should be made clear to potential users that the Skype client 4.x series is feature-deficient and currently a “downgrade” in comparison with
    previous 3.x versions.

    I’m really getting worried about Skype and its current state of inertia. It seems that the company has lost its way since the EBay acquisition and is no longer as dynamic as it once was. Betas in the past used to be something to download and enjoy. This 4.x Beta is a huge backward step…

Comments are closed.