Engaging in business using Skype as an instant messaging platform has become something of an uphill struggle over the last few years. One of the things I’ve developed an interest in whilst being a copywriter has been accessibility, interface design and the user experience. These can seem like wishywashy concepts, but the central idea is this: anything that someone is engaging with should be designed in such a way to make their life as easy as possible. When I use a product, I want to want to use that product over the competition’s offerings. In the case of Skype, the only thing that actually makes it a viable tool is the fact that everyone uses it. Usually, that’s an indication that development of an application is good, but in the case of Skype and its newly released Windows 10 app, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
From what I can understand, the central issues surrounding Skype all seem to stem from the fact that it has to be portable on multiple devices. The ‘app’ thing forces development into accessibility to both Windows-enabled mobile phones and the Xbox One. The gaming industry has already seen just how terrible the concept of porting a product can be (forced resolutions, capped frame rates, limited hotkey functionality, etc.) and the development of Skype has suffered the same fate. Anyway, let’s just go into a few reasons why the Windows 10 Skype App is pretty damn terrible.
No Online Contact Sort Display
Transitioning from the old version of Skype to the App, the previous ‘contacts’ tab next to recent conversations has now disappeared. What takes its place is this popup box, displaying the names of all of your contacts in alphabetical order.
The problem with this is that there is no longer an option to sort contacts based on their status: I have to manually go through each contact to see whether they’re online or not. It’s amazing to think that even MSN Messenger – a program designed over 15 years ago – managed to get this concept down, but the modern version of Skype is unable to provide me with a list of who’s online that I have in my contact book. Discord, Facebook and many other applications manage to get this right: why does Skype struggle to provide a convenient filter for online contacts?
Hidden Dialpad That Loves Being Hidden
If you call a phone number and need to engage with the service on the other end by inputting numbers, you’re going to have a bad time. To enable the dialpad, you’ll have to click the … button before selecting ‘Dialpad’ on the list of options, like so:
You’ll then receive a temporary dialpad that will disappear if you click elsewhere on your computer. What’s particularly annoying about this is that it makes little sense not to include the dialpad just below the phone symbol in the middle of the application. I can understand why they might want a minimum UI that doesn’t include ‘place call on hold’, ‘share screen’ and so on: it could end up being confusing as to what each little icon does, but this clearly isn’t going to be the case for a dialpad, because no one is going to be confused about its functionality. A permanent dialpad has many benefits and, as far as I can tell, no drawbacks whatsoever.
URL Display When Linking
For this one, let’s compare the display of URLs between Skype and Discord:
The idea of having a display for hyperlinks isn’t a new one: sometimes it’s useful to have more information than just the URL. However, Skype’s management of this is absolutely horrific. Here’s a look at what happens when Skype/Discord receive a URL and the design implementation of that link:
- Remove URL from display, truncating the website’s name to just the TLD (for instance, www.google.com/webmasters/tools/etc. will just become www.google.com).
- Grab the first image you can find, if none are available, grab the Favicon instead.
- Combine and display.
- Maintain URL display in its entirety.
- Include the website name and first title tag at the top of the display.
- Either grab the Meta Description tag or just grab the first X amount of meaningful text found on the web page.
- Grab an image if it appears to be meaningful. If no meaningful image, do not render an image at all.
- Combine and display.
It should be apparent why Skype’s handing of links is absolutely terrible. For one thing, URLs can change after being linked to, so if you’re checking for something like redirection of a URL with a client, it can be hard to navigate through different links and understand what’s going on. It also limits your ability to copy/paste that link to someone else. Additionally, no display of the link hinders your ability to contextualize what you’re taking a look at. When reading back on past conversations, this can be painful: URLs from the same site can look identical, so if you’re looking for one in particular, you’re going to struggle to easily locate what you’re after.
The other steps taken by Discord just help contextualize the link: something that Skype seems to try and completely avoid. It’s also a hell of a lot neater to not have the image rendered covered in text. As a basic point of design, whenever an image is rendered, that image should have absolutely no restrictions on its visibility.
No Localized Search Feature
Suppose I negotiated a project’s fixed price for a client a few months ago that now wants to go ahead with the work. We’re both unsure exactly of the amount quoted, so I attempt to go through our chat logs to locate that information. What I might do in some situations is simply scroll up, but suppose we’ve spoken a lot since then, it’s important to be able to search the chat I’m currently in to find that information.
The Windows 10 Skype App doesn’t allow you to do that. You have to search through every single chat you’ve had for the term you’re looking for, with no ability at all to search your conversation with just one individual. I do not know of a single messaging platform that has this limitation, and the fact that it exists on a piece of software being advertised in the modern era is absolutely astounding. There are periods where I have incredibly busy interactions with clients over the course of a week, and can sometimes type upwards of 5,000 words in Skype per day to multiple people. Referencing previous discussions is incredibly difficult for me now – I can do it, but the time investment is time that could be better spent actually working.
Those are my biggest gripes with the Skype App thus far: I’ll be sure to update this post as I come across more problems that makes my relationship with Skype a hate-hate one at best.