Earlier this week Skype released Skype 5.10 for Windows with useful tweaks to how Contacts are displayed and managed and how screen sharing is handled.
With respect to managing Contacts:
- You can select and “pin” your Favorite (or most frequent) Contacts to the top of the Contacts pane.
- Both Facebook and Skype Contacts are combined into one Contacts list in the Contacts pane.
Pinning Favorites helps users with a large number of contacts by prioritizing selected contacts to the top, and most readily viewable section, of the Contacts pane. “Add to Favorites” has been added to the standard Contact right click menu. To pin a Contact to your Favorites, right click on the Contact and select “Add to Favorites” or drag a Contact to the top of your Contacts pane. Using drag and drop you can also reorder the list of Contacts. The Favorites do not appear to respond to the Contacts | Sort by Name feature in Skype’s drop down menus.
Once a Contact is designated as a Favorite the “Add a Favorite” item in this menu is replaced by “Remove from Favorites”.
Merging Facebook and Skype Contacts under the Contacts tab has resulted in changes with the Categories feature. You can still separate Skype and Facebook contacts but the navigation to do so has changed.
Skype has now designated four “priority” Categories that are automatically added to the user-defined Contact categories available in previous versions: All, Skype, Online and Facebook. The category to be displayed is now selected from either the Contact List item in the Contacts menu or through the drop down menu available immediately after the Favorite contacts within the Contacts list.
My initial observations:
- Having Favorites “pinned” to the top of the Contacts list allows me to more quickly find my frequent Contacts; on the other hand you want to keep this list to 15 to 20 Contacts to take full advantage of this benefit. In other words I would like to always see all my Favorites without the need to scroll.
- It would be useful if the Favorites “heading” included the ability to collapse the Favorites list to more easily access the drop down menu for selecting an individual category.
- It would also be useful if I could filter the Favorites between “All Favorites” and “Online Favorites”.
- Update: Selecting “Online” in the drop down menu shown above will only display Favorites who are Online as well as all other Online contacts below the drop down box.
- The selection of Favorites only applies to Skype for Windows; unlike other Categories it does not show up as a “Group” in Skype for Mac/iPad or or as Favorites in Skype for Android.
These all address the need to quickly find a particular contact in the context of the reason for launching a conversation. Of course the ability to search for a Contact remains as an alternative way to access an individual one. For Contacts who are both a Skype and a Facebook Contact, doing a search will still show both contact items with “Facebook” under the name of the Facebook Contact.
Keep in mind that Facebook chat sessions are totally independent of the content of Skype chat sessions; in fact, Facebook chat sessions within the Skype client are also mirrored over to Facebook chat on other devices, including Facebook on the BlackBerry Playbook (and its integration into its Messaging application) and the Instant Messages feature of CounterPath’s Bria.
There are also changes related to clarifying when Skype Premium is required for screen sharing. However, they are best discussed in a separate post on this topic, demonstrating how these are handled in both Skype for Windows and Skype for Mac. Yes, there is still a way to do 1-to-1 screen sharing without need for a Skype Premium subscription.
As mentioned in the Skype Garage Blog post about this version there is also a way to switch on a “backwards-compatible video encoding mode” which helps “solve video encoding issues for those Skype users who still have very old computers or graphic cards with drivers that may not properly support DirectX 9”. As the action required is fairly technical, check out the instructions in the post for more details. Not something for the majority of Skype users to worry about.
Finally the ability to insert video into mood messages has been removed. No loss here as very few recalled this feature, introduced several years ago, was available and I imagine the relationship with the relevant hosting partners has died off.
Bottom line: Skype, as a business unit of Microsoft, continues it policy of issuing upgrades every two to three months. The modifications to handling Contacts in Skype for Windows makes my Skype calling activity a bit easier but it still has some rough edges, as mentioned above. Addressing them would make the experience for the consumer user somewhat easier to understand and follow. The new Skype Premium communications clarifies an issue that arose several times on Twitter.
I would still like to see one additional “priority” category: Mobile Contacts. Here you could designate those Contacts you would like to call on Skype for iPhone or Skype for Android. This would help with both battery life issues (created by trying to keep Presence up to date) and generally reducing the overhead for the various Skype activities, such as keeping up with chat sessions.