Jul 2, 2014

Musings: Skype iOS 7 Redesign

in category Musings

Skype recently released their redesign of their Skype Messaging App on iOS in early June 2014.

I used their app daily, seeing how it is one of the main forms of communication between my colleagues while working. In a world where messaging apps are a plenty, the old Skype app was due for a redesign to bring it up to speed with the more modernised look of todays apps. After using the app for a few weeks, it was clear that while there are improvements, certain issues have not been fixed as well.

As it is with Microsoft’s applications, they employed the same design language that is prevalent across Windows Phone such as large typography for the menus as well as the bar at the bottom of the app for context-specific options, dependent on the screen that you are on. Distinctive enough to stand out amongst the Apple iOS or Google Android Design Languages, it immediately gives you a much more pleasant experience. With little animation embellished through the application, it is pleasing to the eye, easy to use and a much welcome redesign.

Skype-Animation

Personality is littered through the application, from the parallax effect as you scroll to fun messages when you take a video:

skype-video

Messages are now more streamlined too. By hiding the dates and names, the focus on messaging is now stronger, and is never more welcomed.

However, there are some flaws that mares the overall experience, including my biggest gripe about Skype:

Without the indication of the kind of password, this can frustrate users

Signing up for an account:

Let’s start with something simple. Passwords.

When you sign up for an account, you are asked to key in 6-20 characters for your password. Attempt to use a simple password to go through, Skype will deny the creation of the account, stating that you have to key in a new password.

What password though? Another 6-20 character password? Or are there hidden requirements that I should know right now so that I don’t put in another password, only to find myself rejected again?

Sharing Photos:

Everyone loves sharing photos. What about sharing a photo in Skype?

In Facebook Messenger, this is seamless. Share a photo on the messenger app and boom, it appears in the conversation on your browser.

For Skype however, you get this:

Is that spam?

Is that spam?

Clicking on the link, you are sent to a page where you are asked to sign in. Only when you are signed in can you view the image. Essentially, you have asked me to be logged in to my account on my desktop application as well as my browser in order to view the image.

Seriously?

Sharing Files:

With iOS being a sandboxed environment, the user will undoubtedly run into issues with sharing files. Some applications work around this by allowing the user to open the shared file in another application, or even having a built-in viewer.

Skype however doesn’t shy away from their weakness.

Try sending a PDF and you get an unfriendly message saying that you won’t be able to read whatever your contact has sent you. Wouldn’t it be possible to still send the file across and then offer the user the ability to open the file in another app, say iBooks to read it?

Connectivity and Pending Messages:

In the previous version of Skype, the words “Pending” is shown briefly as you reply your contacts before being replaced by a timestamp. That short pause is similar to how other messaging as well, from the Whatsapp’s Ticks, to Facebook Messenger’s Faded Messages as well as Apple’s Messages progress bar at the top. It is immediately obvious to users that your message has been successfully sent.

(Left) Facebook Messenger shows you when a message hasn't been sent by fading the bubble. (Right) Whatsapp tells you when a message has been sent by the 2 ticks beside the timestamp.

(On the left) Facebook Messenger fades the bubble away to indicate when a message has yet to be delivered. (On the right) Whatsapp indicates a sent message with 2 ticks beside the timestamp.

The current redesign of Skype takes a design cue from Apple’s Messages app, where the timestamp is hidden unless you drag the messages to the left. By hiding the timestamp and removing the name of the user, what you see is a clean representation of a conversation between you and your contact.

The problem comes when you are in an area where your internet connection is useless:

  1. There are no indications as to whether you are connected or not during a conversation:
    Multiple times, my internet connection would drop when I am travelling. Either I am underground, or I hit a pocket of no connectivity. When that happens, it is understandable that I won’t be able to connect to the Skype network and send my messages. At this point, as a user, I would be expecting to be given an indication of my dropped connection so that I wouldn’t blindly be sending messages to another contact.
  2. There is no indication whether your messages are being sent out or not:
    By removing “Pending” when you have sent your message, you remove the short feedback that is needed by the user to know whether their message has been sent through.
  3. You can still send out messages even when you are not connected:
    In Whatsapp, the send button is disabled until it is connected to the network again. However, in Skype, even when in airplane mode, you can still send a message, complete with a timestamp.

It could be rationalised that Skype is taking a different approach to this negative scenario. Unlike other apps where sending a message can time out in a scenario with no internet connectivity, for Skype, your messages will be sent. Skype will immediately try to send your messages through once you hit an internet connection. So when you sent it out, you can assume that it is sent, no matter whether you have internet or not.

But this has frustrated me on countless occasions. In the middle important conversations, I am underground and I know damn well that I will lose my connection. But I needed to know whether what I have said has been sent through so that I can send a follow up message through more reliable forms like SMS.

Inability to sync across devices:

Or what I like to term “Death by notification”.

When you have multiple conversations going on, with multiple groups, you can expect messages to reach hundred, even thousands each day.

As you are chatting on your desktop, the messages are also pushed towards your phone. So you get messages in both places.

However, there are times when the messages are not pushed towards your phone:

  1. Read messages on your Desktop are unread on the Skype Mobile App:
    Unread messages are always indicated by the badges on the Skype iOS icon. However, because the messages aren’t sync properly, you never get an accurate count of the number of read/unread messages. Messages that you have seen on your Desktop can still be unread on your phone, which is confusing as hell.
  2. Delay in notification (or Death By Notification)
    You have hundred, thousands of messages a day and I am constantly typing away in front of my computer, replying to messages. As this happens, my phone is silent. No notification has come in, even though surely at least 50 of them has been sent to you. Then suddenly, your phone vibrates non-stop as a flood of notifications come in, each of them are the read messages that you have seen and have already responded. It’s become so bad that I had to switch off vibration whenever I am in the office so that I don’t see it vibrate for 10 to 15 seconds as all the messages are vomited onto the screen.

This is a problem that has been apparent in the last version and you would think that with the redesign, such a big flaw should be fixed.

Well, indeed it has been “fixed”. On the Recent screen, there is a button which you can tap that will “Mark all as unread”. It’s as if the Skype team knew about this but couldn’t manage to fix it so they introduced another button to help mitigate their syncing problem.

That’s just poor.

Concluding Thoughts

To be honest, I love the re-design. Certain minor details could have been polished up better (which I am sure they will be) and the Skype Team did a brilliant job with their little animations and personality touches that they have placed in the app. I will continue to use it, even if it continues to frustrate me sometimes.

Microsoft, if you are reading this, please, for the love of all that is good, fix your damn syncing.