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With Facetime Looming, Skype Outs a Better Mac Client

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Skype today released a new version of its voice and video calling client for Mac computers: the new Skype 5.0 Beta for Mac offers a redesigned native look and features that are closer to parity with its Windows (s msft) counterpart, such as group video calls. Multiple users can participate in a videoconference, even across platforms; the group feature works on Mac (s aapl) and PC, provided all participants are using Skype 5.0. The new beta client for Mac isn’t all about feature parity with the Windows version; Skype is under pressure from Apple’s FaceTime application, which launched for the iPhone 4 and newest iPod touch, but became available on millions of Mac computers late last month.

To be sure, the new Skype beta for Mac is vastly improved, and if you’re a Skype user, it’s a must to download for your Mac. The client looks much more like a native Mac application, integrates with the Mac OS X Address Book, and supports the sending of instant messages to offline contacts and the ability to search text chat history.

All features are grouped in a well-designed single form, making it easy to perform any function without having to look around for it. Yet, you can still float a dial pad or listing of online contacts separately and these small windows can sit atop any other running apps. All in all, the new Skype beta client is well designed for simplicity, making it easy to use the existing and new functions. Here’s an overview video from the Skype folks, if you’re not convinced the beta upgrade is worth a try:

With Skype previously focused more on its client for Windows (s msft), it’s great to see the Mac version get some major love with features PC owners have been enjoying. I think you can thank Apple, and to a lesser extent, Google (s goog), for this Skype beta. Apple’s release of its FaceTime mobile video client earlier this year sent a shot across the bow of the S.S. Skype, which has generally dominated the video calling space for several years boasting 560 million registered users at the end of 2009.

The real cannon shot, however, was the recent introduction of Apple’s FaceTime for Mac OS X, which connects both Mac and iPhone 4 / iPod touch owners through video calling. Clearly, Skype didn’t just whip this new client together after Apple’s FaceTime introduction, but the Skype team surely has more motivation to improve their software due to the sudden competition.

Case in point: I have a daily video chat with my son, which used to be on Skype or Google Talk, but not any more. We’ve used FaceTime exclusively since it arrived. Perhaps we’re the exception, and Skype users are simply ignoring video call offerings from Apple, Google and other third party developers. But I don’t believe Skype is counting on that as consumers could be looking for simpler solutions that are well integrated to computing platforms. FaceTime for iOS might just move Skype along a little faster when it comes to mobile video clients too.

The fact that I don’t even need FaceTime open on my Mac to accept a call is a huge plus. For example, when my son calls me from his iPhone 4, FaceTime automatically opens and even pauses the iTunes music I’m listening to. Skype is going to battle against such native clients, and by adding features and a more native look-and-feel, it’s starting to do just that with Skype 5.0 for Mac. This is just one skirmish, but as Yoda might say: “Begun the video calling wars, have.”

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17 Responses to “With Facetime Looming, Skype Outs a Better Mac Client”

    • I installed the new beta the day I left for a 12-day vacation. I got back late last night, and opened Skype this morning. (Didn’t upgrade on my macbook pro because I wasn’t too thrilled about my very quick look at the beta on the iMac.)

      I am now searching for the most recent version of Skype, pre-5.0 beta. The interface is horrible, it’s not user-friendly, and I see very little, if any, “good” adaptation of the “standard” (have you used iTunes lately?) Mac UI.

      I want to be able to change font sizes, window sizes, I want pop-out chat windows for multiple chats (tabs are okay sometimes; sometimes they aren’t). And I sure as hell want to reduce the screen footprint, even on my 24″ monitor.

      I don’t use group video chat, and if I did, I’d probably use Google Talk. Re: 5.0 Beta— F A I L.

  1. this is really the worst skype version ever for the mac system. and even if the author says that this is no review, he should have seen, that they amount of space this version takes is rediciously too much. i always liked the mac kind of idea, that you have seperate windows… even in photoshop you can drag and drop layers and so on. i liked it in skype, that i can have video chat with someone and send him an file, while we are talking by dragging it in the IM window …

    another point is, that i often have contacts that are just invisible but still online … in this floating contact thingy, i don’t have them. why don’t have a floating thing that shows all contacts?

    i really don’t understand, why you are saying that this version is in any way more a mac application. it is the most PC-ish version ever. my macbook pro and my my office imac are standing right next to each other both are running skype, one work account (imac) and the privat account on the MBP… really guys in compareson, this new version is a UI and ergonomic mess … i will deinstall the ne version today… what a crap. i hope skype will do the right thing.

    sorry for my english, btw.

  2. Skype would never, ever work on my OSX Macbook (and I dug into nearly everything), but worked fine in WinXP, same hardware. But the new beta does work, yippee!

    And, while Facetime may be great, cross-platform still trumps it – what if both parties aren’t using Apple products?

    I can Skype with anyone, with any mix of Nix, OSX, or Win. Facetime requires both parties to use an Apple product – FAIL.

  3. This is the worst version of Skype yet and I was actually surprised to read an article where the writer actually liked it. Have you actually tried it? Are you, for an example, aware that you cant even resize the window? That you need to scroll for ages just to view your open chats? That you can’t stop a file transfer to one person when you started to transfer a document across a group chat? This version is actually so bad that it makes me angry(and that does not happen very often)

    • See my comment above, RE: this is not a review. It’s also a beta product. And yes, you can resize the window via the handle at the bottom right. I also don’t use Skype for chat, so I wouldn’t know about the having to scroll for ages – of course (just to reiterate since this point is repeatedly getting lost) this isn’t a review of the software, but if it was I would have tested that function.

      Regardless, these comments are great feedback for the Skype team so they can improve the product.

      • Cyndy Aleo

        The weirdest part about the UI is that, while you can shrink the text, the actual rows the text is IN don’t shrink, so it doesn’t do a whole lot of good. Those rows are what’s sucking up all the real estate. Ditch that and the ridiculous Cover Flow (and wow, my apologies to whoever was tasked with coding that waste of time) and I’m okay with trading off for finally having the same features Windoze folk have had.

  4. No, NOT a ‘must’ by any stretch. I rolled back to the previous version in less than 30 minutes due to the inane one-thing-at-a-time interface.

    Designed for simplicity is a great interface criteria, but it shouldn’t translate to dictating how people can actually work! Case in point: is it reasonable to talk AND IM with someone at the same time? (“Here’s the link to the site, Fred.”) The new UI doesn’t allow that. Nor can you deal with a call or IM popup without clicking away from that spiffy N-way video conference. (I’m being literal. You can’t keep watching the folks on the videoconference if you want to type a quick “back after this call” IM.)

    Skype got hounded for the all-in-one Win UI some time back. Apparently their Mac team is being told to follow suit.

    If you use Skype much, don’t bother with this beta.
    If you’re at Skype Corp – please do NOT ship this without substantial revisions. (We run our internal team on Skype. We all switched back.)

    • We use it internally to, for all team meetings at our virtual company.
      I can’t seriously consider doing that with this release.
      I would switch to FaceTime or iChat, but we need group calling (no FaceTime) and some people are on Windows :(
      Switching back now.

      P.S. – who the heck will ever use “cover flow for contacts” ?

  5. I doubt this reviewer actually installed the new BETA Skype for mac. It is the worst BETA I have in all my years of software use seen. The UI is appalling, the enormous interface means Skype is painfull to use. It’s not better, it’s a huge step back. I deinstalled it as will many.

    • Incorrect on 2 counts: I did install it and this isn’t a review. ;) “The UI is appalling” is pretty subjective: you may think so while others would disagree. And it is a beta.

      As far as the large interface goes, I totally understand: it takes up a good portion of the display on my 1440×900 MacBook Air. But it’s better than prior versions of Skype I used on small netbooks. Bear in mind that if you’re on a call and switch to another application, a floating Skype toolbar appears, which helps in terms of real estate and call control.

      I think the UI is still large due to the features: cover-flow for contacts, various messaging options, etc…

  6. Have you actually installed it and looked at the interface?
    It’s humongous!
    It takes up a full 20% of my 24-inch 1920×1200 display.
    Sorry, but this is something I want to be unobtrusive.
    Worse yet, the chat windows are now integrated in that huge display, not individual (small) pop-outs.
    IMHO, with the exception of group video chat, Skype 5 for Mac is a big huge fail.