Skype for Windows 5.5 beta: The Call Bar

One of the most helpful features introduced with Skype 5.0 was the Call Bar or Call Navigation Bar that comes up when you launch a call and is accessible during the call. (If it disappears during the call simply “mouse over” the “black background” call area and it will re-appear).

CallQualityIndicatorIconIts Call Quality Indicator feature is, frankly, one of the most useful tools which I find very handy when helping other parties ensure their mic, speakers and webcam are working ok during a call and to check the quality of the Internet connection.

But let’s look at the user experience with the Skype 5.5 beta for Windows proposed Call Bar; the icons have been modified and the order on the bar changed.

SkypeForWindows.5_5.CallBar.600px

It’s a little vague, no "mouse over" bubbles to indicate the purpose of an icon.but you can find some information with tooltips that come up if you mouse over near each icon.  (Initially I did not find these icons during several calls but it was pointed out that the tooltips are there.) So either a user ignores them or has to guess. When you click on some icons you get a sub-menu (but that’s a click, not the more spontaneous bubble:

CallBar.Info

Here’s the issue. The majority of Skype users are not aware of the rich feature set that can support a Skype-to-Skype call. Make it easy to at least get a start at understanding the purpose of the various icons. For a starter the call bar tooltips, when found, are certainly helpful. A broader question is why change the icons (and icon order) that users are familiar with?

One new feature that is helpful: that right most “Display Call” icon that allows you to manage how and where the primary call window is displayed. Using the Pop-Out feature allows use of the full height of the Conversation pane for Chat.

Fortunately the Call Quality Indicator user interface remains the same and allows “ in call” monitoring of the audio, video and PC hardware as well as the Internet connection. One feature that also remains (and has worked for me in calls using this version) is the ability to recover a call if the Internet connection quality deteriorates momentarily during the call.

CallBar.InternetConnection.600px

Bottom line: changes to look for in either the next beta version or gold release:

  • Adding tooltips to the icons in the Call Bar to indicate what they do on a “mouse over”. Done.
  • Skype.EndCallButtonChange the End Call icon back to the familiar one. (and keep it consistent with the End Call button beside the Contact’s name in the Contact pane).
  • Open a 1 inch/2.5 cm high portion of the Chat window to let users know they can still chat during a call.
  • Don’t touch the Call Quality Indicator

But this all brings back another outstanding issue. Let’s hope  this same Call Bar (with the Call Quality Indicator) shows up in the next revision of Skype for Mac 5. Consistency helps user adoption, especially when it comes to learning about Skype’s extra features available during a Skype-to-Skype call. After all, with Firefox 5, I have almost the same overall User Interface on both the Windows and Mac versions … makes it real simple not only for users with both Windows and Mac PC’s but also for explaining a feature to a call participant independent of which OS the participant is using.

As a final comment: the real issue here with respect to user interface consistency is “innovation” vs a “company standard”. While there are some neat features unique to Mac OS that could be included in a Skype for Mac client, let’s see a consistency with the primary user interface both for managing Contacts and Conversations via separate panes in the client and for managing Skype’s extra features available during a call (the Call Bar). For instance, I have no objection to the way two or more participants are shown in the Call pane or Window during a call; but keep the basics similar!

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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