Last year Microsoft acquired Skype to widespread groans from users and competitors, but it doesn’t seem that Microsoft is second guessing its decision. Today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft announced the release of a beta version of Skype for Windows Phone, and it looks different than any version of Skype we’ve seen before.
Skype Styled by Microsoft
Last year, Microsoft gobbled up Skype for an impressive US$ 8.5 billion. Not everyone was happy about the deal, and they’re still not thrilled. Last week, Cisco appealed the European Commission’s approval of the deal. Cisco is suggesting that Skype’s lack of integration with other video platforms is anti-competitive and will ultimately harm consumers.
Cisco’s move might be payback for Microsoft’s involvement in pushing the same Commission to examine Cisco’s 2010 purchase of Tandberg more closely, which made Cisco the leading provider of video conferencing software in the entire world.
However, the turmoil doesn’t seem to be deterring Microsoft from moving forward with its plans for Skype. (For some reason, I feel the need to insert a maniacal laugh here.) Today, some of those plans became clear with the beta release of Skype for Windows Phone. The release has all of the major features users expect from Skype -- low-cost calling, group chat and of course, video calling over Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G, which makes it more well-rounded than Apple’s Face Time that only works over Wi-Fi.
The Windows Mobile team created a video demo to showcase the new Skype version.
As you can see in the video, it’s definitely Skype, and it has definitely been assimilated into Microsoft. The Windows Phone version of Skype provides a significantly different user experience than Skype on other platforms. It uses Microsoft’s new Metro-style interface, which will soon be on every Windows device from the desktop to gaming consoles.
In addition to the styling, the Windows Phone version of Skype embraces a different a new information organization strategy. Content is grouped in two categories: messages, which contains recent calls, instant messages and voice mails, and contacts. It has a very clean and simple feel.
The official release of Skype for Windows Phone is planned for April. Windows Mobile users with version 7.5 and above can download the beta now from the Marketplace. The beta version is only available in English.
Microsoft’s decision to bring Skype to mobile in addition to its own Lync is smart. Lync may be recognizable in corporate circles, but does haven't nearly the brand appeal of Skype in the consumer sector. Given that the mobile market is currently dominated by Apple and Google’s Android. Microsoft will have to offer “killer apps” like Skype to entice users to the platform.