Over the past eight months 1.2 million Skype users have participated in the Skype for Windows 4.0 beta program (stage 1, stage 2, stage 3). During this beta period, not only current user feedback was sought but also feedback from new users installing Skype for the first time. The goal was to provide a user interface that was more intuitive while encouraging users to go beyond simply voice calls to experience and use chat and video conversations.
Today Skype is announcing the Gold release of Skype 4.0 for Windows. From the download page:
We’ve built this brand new Skype so you can have the conversations that make a difference to you, every day. It’s easy to use, plus step-by-step guides help you get started.
While most of the new features have been revealed during the beta period, Skype’s marketing will focus on three key features:
- New user interface; with over 25% of Skype-to-Skype calls involving video this new release has been designed with a focus on improving the video call user experience.
- Improved call quality: Skype 4.0 for Windows incorporates Skype’s new SILK codec whose features are discussed in a separate post today. Bottom line is a crisp, crystal clear audio experience, yet only half the network bandwidth of other codecs is required to support a voice call.
- Bandwidth management: a new bandwidth manager has been developed with the goal of improving overall call performance by adapting, in real time, to degraded or low speed network conditions, such as those caused by excessive packet loss and/or jitter.
The new user interface also has taken into account factors that encourage users to explore Skype beyond voice calling. Incorporating beta user feedback Skype has found that the new UI is driving up adoption rates for Instant Messaging, file transfer and video. When you open a contact window launching a voice, chat or video conversation requires a single click on the respective voice (“Call”), chat or video button. The associated text pane tracks not only chat messages but also voice and video call detail information (launch time, end time) as well as file transfer information. And, as in the past with chat, the entire record is all archived on your local PC for future recall.
Other features: You can choose to view your Skype activity in one larger screen or in individual “conversation” windows. During a call a drop down menu on the “call audio control bar” provides quick access to making any necessary audio or video settings. Single click buttons allow you to quickly change oe add conversation modes to adapt to the context of the conversation. A wizard provides assistance with testing audio and video settings. During their testing they found that these features drove new users to more quickly experience chat and video while there was an increase in usage of these modes by legacy users.
On-the-fly the bandwidth manager can adjust both video and audio transmission by making real time adjustments to parameters such as video resolution, frames-per-second or audio bandwidth. to ensure an ability to maintain a basic level of communication while enduring these conditions. Once again the goal is to improve the overall user experience with no user intervention required.
- The SkypeMe! status button has been removed as a result of its tendency to be used for spamming and other forms of unwanted calls. (Of course you also still have the option to only allow callers in your Contact list to call you.). Along with this Skype has introduced “abuse reporting” which is monitored by Skype personnel for dealing with undesirable calling activity.
Over the next few weeks, with more experience using Skype 4.0 for Windows we may cover some features in more detail. In the meantime you can download it here. We look forward your feedback in the Comments. Release Notes are here.
Yesterday Skype went past 16 million concurrent users around 1830 GMT. It will be interesting to monitor both the concurrent user number and Hudson Barton’s “real user” indicator as Skype 4.0 for Windows installations grow over the next couple of weeks..
Of course, the best news is that Skype-to-Skype calls (including multi-party calls), chat and video calling remain free. And there are calling plan subscriptions available for low cost calling to landlines worldwide.