Skype released new beta clients for both Windows (s msft) and Mac (s aapl) on Thursday that introduce the ability to make video calls to your Facebook friends from within Skype itself. This is a natural extension of the partnership between Skype and Facebook, which brought video calls to the social network back in July.
We went hands-on with the new feature using the Skype for Mac 5.4 Beta to see if it’s as easy to use as the promotional video Skype released detailing it (warning: autoplays) makes it out to be. The answer, it turns out, is yes and no.
Setup you would expect from a beta
To set up the service, you need to tie your Facebook account to your Skype client through a simple authorization process, all of which takes place in the Skype app itself through the Skype Home screen. I had already done this using the last Skype beta for Mac, so I expected to be able to jump right in.
Not so fast. I found that in order to get my Facebook contacts to appear in Skype, I needed to disconnect my Facebook account and reconnect it, then quit and restart the program. After that, I had trouble getting the Skype beta client to recognize who was or wasn’t online. That required another quit and restart of the Skype application. It could be that this only happened because I was already using a previous beta; if you’re signing in with your Facebook credentials for the first time, you may have better luck.
Still, it’s important to keep in mind that this is prerelease software, so bugs are to be expected, and I eventually worked everything out in just a few minutes. Skype will likely iron out these kinks before a final release.
Calls are easy
Once you can see your Facebook contacts, making video calls to them is remarkably easy. Simply go to the Skype Contacts tab in the left-hand menu and navigate to the group of “online” folks. You could also navigate to the “Facebook” group, but video calls can only be made to Facebook users who are listed as online anyway, so it makes more sense to see only who is actually available.
I tried two calls to see how the service worked; the first, to my colleague Kevin C. Tofel, went off without a hitch, although Kevin said that there appeared to be a bit of delay as the Skype and Facebook services did their initial handshaking. Once connected, though, video and audio quality were both great, and there appeared to be no lag or delay on either end.
One caveat for calling that I discovered in my second attempt: If the Facebook contact you are trying to reach has not already installed the plug-in necessary to enable Facebook video chat, they will be prompted to do so. Luckily, it’s a relatively quick, painless process, and once my friend was set up, that call went just as well as the first one.
A good step toward centrally managed video communication
Adding Facebook video calling to Skype extends the service’s reach considerably, and it is another step toward simplifying Internet-based communication by tying people’s most frequently used accounts to one another. It means Skype users should have an easier time raising friends and family for video chat, and depending on how you use Facebook, it could make face-to-face professional communication easier, too.
While there hasn’t yet been any announcement regarding taking Skype’s Facebook integration to mobile devices, that would seem like a logical next step. It would help extend cross-platform potential for centralized video chat even further. According to our recent poll, Skype is a popular option among mobile video chatters, but if this Facebook integration makes its way to smartphones and tablets, too, that popularity could go through the roof.