Microsoft's Skype division announced Skype for Windows Phone 8 on October 29. But it wasn't until late last night, November 11, that the Skype team made tht product -- in preview form -- available for download.
(Thanks to WPCentral for a heads up on the availability timing. Around 9 pm ET on November 11, the preview was just beginning to trickle out. The Skype team announced availability on November 12. The Windows 8 Skype app preview can be downloaded from the Windows Phone Store. )
Skype for Windows Phone 8 is not integrated into the Windows Phone OS, in spite of some reports claiming the contrary. It is a downloadable app, but is more tightly integrated than many other Windows Phone 8 apps -- meaning it has direct access to the People Hub, can display via the lock screen, and can take advantage the incoming call screen -- capabilities which other VOIP apps on Windows Phone 8 do not have.
Skype for Windows Phone 8 allows users to receive chat messages and notifications for voice and video calls even i fthey are in another app or have their phones on lock. Skype officials said this "always on" multitasking will result on only "limited" battery drain. Skype calls will use the same incoming call screen that regular phone calls use in Windows Phone, and will allow call waiting so that users can switch between Skype calls and mobile calls.
Chats are the default first view. As is the case with Skype for Windows 8, the Skype unit's goal is to convince users that Skype chat should be the first place they go when they log into any mobile device. In chat, users will find conversation history, as well as current chats.
"The idea is to promote everyday usage," said Derek Snyder, head of mobile marketing at Skype. Microsoft wants users to become accustomed to logging into Skype and leaving it permanently on.
Skype notifications are available on the lock screen, as an option, as of this release. (See embedded image at left.)
Microsoft officials announced last week that they are planning to eliminate Windows Live Messenger as of the first quarter of 2013. As part of this plan, Microsoft is automatically integrating Messenger buddies into Skype (once a user signs in on Windows Phone 8 for the first time using his/her Microsoft account). Skype officials are playing this up as a positive, claiming this integration will make it "possible for you to connect with more people than ever."
Along with a number of my readers, I am concerned that there are not currently enough privacy controls to allow users to make themselves unavailable (wihout having to be universally invisible) now that Skype is integrated with my contact list. Another drawback: There is no way to sign out of Skype on Windows Phone 8 (unless I just cannot find this).
Microsoft/Skype have not made it as very clear that once users opt into integrating their Messenger/Skype contact lists, this merger cannot (easily) be undone.
"You can undo the Messenger/Skype merge via support, if needed," a spokesperson told me late last week. "We expect that the ability for the user to undo will be coming soon."
I've sent my feedback to Skype about my uneasiness around the lack of granular privacy controls. Others may do the same by chiming in over at Skype customer support. Hopefully, there's still time for some changes before the WP8 Skype client goes final -- the planned timing of which Microsoft/Skype is not providing at this time.