Skype is getting its biggest face-lift in years, ditching its light-blue theme for a customizable interface and features aimed at the way young people communicate, from emojis to a Snapchat-like recap of the day.
In addition to the cosmetic changes being made by Microsoft, the update modernizes Skype’s underlying infrastructure, years in the making, in an effort to give the service the reliability needed to compete with upstarts in the crowded world of communications software.
The service’s former backbone — peer-to-peer connections that linked a caller to their target through a direct line — is being replaced in the update by Microsoft’s network of data centers. Some of users’ complaints about the service, including phantom notifications or calls that were missed entirely should – for the most part be resolved by this upgrade.
Skype, which Microsoft scooped up for $8.5 billion in 2011, was a pioneer in voice and video calls made over the internet, instead of wired telephone connections or cellular networks.
Today, such internet communications tools are commonplace, and some have lapped Microsoft’s product in usage.
Facebook Messenger and Facebook-owned WhatsApp each boast more than one billion users. China-focused QQ and WeChat aren’t far behind, and Google and Apple are both investing in communications tools tied to their expansive mobile platforms.
A year ago Microsoft said Skype had 300 million “monthly connected users,” little changed from 2013.
In addition to the new Snapchat-like “Highlights” feature that compiles recent photos and videos into a shareable reel, the update places greater emphasis on tools to find friends and quickly fires off emojis or reactions in response to chats and videos.
Automated chatbots, a push by Microsoft as it aims to build more intelligent software, have been given a prominent home in the new Skype. Through a text window, users can summon Expedia to search for flight prices, or ask StubHub about concert tickets. But that functionality remains limited, and many software developers are only now getting their hands on the tools to make such Skype bots.
The update will began going out late last week, first targeting mobile devices running Android and, afterward, iOS. The software is expected to make its way to the desktop edition this summer.
Skype’s workplace cousin, Skype for Business, isn’t affected by the change.