First Click: Microsoft needs to fix Skype

May 17th, 2016


I’ve used Skype for more years than I care to remember. My Skype username is an embarrassing result of me thinking I was a cool teenager, and I’ve got a big list of important friends and family as contacts. Skype has been the go-to service for me to connect with those friends and family, or even initiate work calls. Over the past couple of years, however, it has been a painful experience.

Microsoft acquired Skype back in October, 2011 for a mighty sum of $8.5 billion. That was nearly a billion more than the $7.6 billion it paid for Nokia's phone business a couple of years ago. Both were insane amounts of money for companies that struggled in the iPhone mobile era. Since Microsoft acquired Skype nearly 5 years ago, the clients for all platforms have been redesigned so many times I couldn't tell you what is old or new. Every time I open Skype on my Windows desktop machine it feels like there's an update, which invariably fails or prompts me to close some applications to finish the process. I'm not sure what Microsoft has done to Skype, but it sucks now.

I have a huge list of issues with Skype that range from basic functionality to weird quirks I'd like to see addressed, but I thought I was alone in my frustrations. Recently, friends and family have started experiencing some of the many issues I experience, including calls simply not connecting properly and every device in a home ringing non-stop even when a call is activated. Microsoft had promised to fix notifications blasting out to both your desktop machine and mobile, but I still frequently receive them in real-time on multiple devices. It's a frustrating and broken experience.

I'm not even sure at this point that Microsoft is listening to the feedback. I've met with Skype engineers and management over the past couple of years, but Microsoft has been busy adding in useless emoji and launching and abandoning its Qik video messaging app instead of addressing the fundamental flaws with its Skype service.

I regularly have to restart the app just to make a call, or have my microphone detected correctly. This isn't a single device with driver issues, it's consistent across machines. I can't even scroll up and down on the contacts section of the Skype app with my trackpad, it just doesn't work. Those are bugs that should be easy to address, but Microsoft has also struggled to get the UI right with Skype. It feels like it constantly changes, and group calls are a confusing mess as a result. I just want something that works and is reliable.

The bugs and problems aren't the biggest problem for Skype, though. After speaking to friends, family, and co-workers who use Skype, it's clear everyone is using it begrudgingly. Nobody enjoys using Skype, but it's used simply because other people use it. It's so ubiquitous, but nothing has fully replaced it yet. Others have tried, and some just chuck in video calling as a feature that's rarely used. WhatsApp is even reportedly testing a video calling service, but like its messaging functionality it will be limited to mobile devices and probably won't work on laptops and desktops.

Microsoft had a real chance to make Skype into the single service you need for communications, but it has failed so far. The Windows Phone integration has been abysmal, and the service as a whole unreliable. 300 million people still actively use Skype each month, so nobody should underestimate its influence on our day-to-day communications. It's time Microsoft fixed Skype before those 300 million people discover something new and reliable.

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