I have a confession to make. After giving the newest version of Skype for Mac the old college try, banging my head against the wall one too many times and a few grey hairs later, I have now ditched it to go back to 3.7.
I like Skype and use it for both work and personal communication. The basic features continue to be provided free to over 500 million users (it must be closer to 600 million by now), and throughout the years, while not perfect, the quality of connections has continued to improve. I often use Skype’s file sharing, video conferencing features, and use it for overseas calls.
Version 5.0 feels right visually , or at the very least is no worse than 3.7 is. As an Interaction Designer, I look for things that are intuitive, easy to use, and just make sense. In these regards, from what I’ve seen so far, Skype 5.0 is a step backward when compared to its predecessor.
To what end? Let’s just say the more sarcastic side of me imagined a room full of high-ranking Skype officials maniacally laughing as they plotted how to make the UI in the new version as frustrating at possible.
Here are five key frustrations I have had with Skype 5.0:
The Contact List Is Over-Complicated
Now we have “Contacts” and “Recent” lists when you used to simply double-click on someone’s name and a pop-up chat window would appear. If you wish to chat with someone you click on their name in the “Recent” list, and a window similar to the Skype 3.7 one appears in the main content section of the site.
The conversation no longer defaults to a separate window. I’m sure some people prefer it to be housed where it is in the new version, so might be willing to forgive this one.
What's really unacceptable is what happens when you want to contact someone who isn’t in your “Recent" list. You have to click on “Skype” in the “Contacts” list, which show a list of all your contacts in the main window. You must then find and double-click on their individual name in the main window, which brings up the same content you would’ve reached by single-clicking their name if they were showing up in your “Recent” list.
How is this better from the old version?
Status Options Are Too Limited
In Skype 5.0, I have only four status options: Online, Away, Do Not Disturb, and Invisible. I’m all for simplifying things, but what happened to “Not Available?" Having “Not Available” and “Do Not Disturb” as two separate options was convenient as it offered degrees of availability.
Now I feel like my only choices are “I’m here”, “I’m away,” or “I’m locking myself in my office, closing the door, shutting the blinds, and not taking any calls unless my favorite celebrity has come to pay me a personal visit." Can’t I just shut my door but keep my blinds open?
Archaic Icons AKA “Your-Guess-Is-as-Good-as-Mine”
Some of these are in fact menus. When you click on someone’s profile name in the "Recent" Menu, in the top right of the main content menu beside the person’s user name and online status there are four icons. The far right is Skype/call and then video chat. These icons are easy enough to understand, but then the fun starts. What do you think the third icon means?
Well my gut tells me it means “full screen," but that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Ok, let me try and think in relation to Skype features. Maybe send files?
It turns out that this little icon has three pieces of functionality: Send Files, Send Contacts, and Share Screen. Why yes, of course, that’s intuitive! Let’s make one icon without a drop-down arrow or any other standard indication it offers an expanding choice. What a great user experience that would offer!
Next there’s the far left icon. After staring at it for long enough, I’m guessing it’s suppose to represent one person standing in front of two more, but when I first saw it, all I could see was a person with a plus sign and some sort of lines coming out the sides of their head. Add telekinetic powers perhaps?
Status Messages Are Now … Moods?
In the old Skype you single-clicked on your name and a word bubble would expand with the text “Enter a message here for all your friends to see." You’d type in text and that would be it. In the new Skype, you click on your name as per the old one; but this time instead of a word bubble below your name, in the main content window your profile information appears and near the top there’s a space for “Mood Message."
What if I want to say “out doing XXX, be back at 2:30?” That’s not really a mood is it? It turns out that the Mood Message does indeed replace the old bubble window, but why did I have to go to such pain to figure that out? Which, by the way, brings me to my next point.
Poor Contextual Help
Not to say that Skype is the lone wolf when it comes to crappy in-program or online help, but if you’re going to change things around and change their name, at least help direct me when I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt for a second time. Take the “Mood Message” example.
After finding it I thought, “Ok, either I can bother a friend and see if they’ll see that as my status, or I can try looking it up.” Not wanting to disturb anyone I decided on the latter. And so I proceeded to type “Mood Message” into the built in help. Here is what I got:
I ended up Googling it and finding the answer on Skype’s website: https://support.skype.com/en-us/faq/FA594/What-are-mood-messages. Sure, it didn’t take me that long, but is this what I should really have to do to be sure I’m using a piece of functionality within software correctly?
Skype 3.7, I Miss You
Perhaps I’m just growing old and cynical, and maybe I should have more patience to “read the manual," do online research, take the extra time to decipher the icons, and get used to the new, not ultra-intuitive layout. But then again, I don’t ever recall having these issues with another great chat/VoIP program. What was its name again? Oh yes, Skype 3.7.
Skype, you have a great program. Don’t ruin it with a crappy interface.
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