Starting today, June 1, Microsoft will begin rolling out the latest iteration of its Skype consumer client app, beginning with Android devices.
The updated Skype client has a new look and feel, using more colors, gradients, bold type and "squiggles" (signs of activity). Incorporation of bots and add-ins are front and center in the new design. Users can add stickers, watch movie clips, and play games from inside the new client.
The updated Skype consumer client -- which Microsoft plans to bring to iOS, Windows, Mac, Linux, the web, and Xbox over time -- also includes some fixes meant to improve the ability to find contacts and to make initial onboarding easier.
The main purpose of the update is to "change group chats into shared experiences," says Amritansh Raghav, corporate vice president, Skype.
An unstated goal of the update is, no doubt, to try to make Skype appeal to the Messenger, WhatsApp, and Snapchat user base, as well, I'd say.
A year ago, Microsoft officials said the company was nearly done moving its Skype consumer service from its P2P backbone to Azure.
"For the last three years, we've been rebuilding Skype," said Raghav. "It's been like changing the jet engines on a plane while in the air flying at hundreds of miles per hour."
Up until today, Microsoft had not talked about its plans to modernize the Skype UI as part of Skype overhaul. But 200,000 Skype Insiders, the majority of which are on Android, have been testing the new client for the past three months.
Microsoft's plan is to take about four weeks to roll out the updated Skype consumer client to Android users, then roll out the new client to iOS users. This Summer, Microsoft plans to release a preview of the new client for Windows 10, Mac, Linux, the web, and Xbox One. Raghav said the desktop version of the client won't simply be a bigger version of the mobile client; it will be customized for desktop use.
What about Skype for Business? A year ago, when I asked Microsoft about its plans to overhaul that version of Skype (which is Microsoft's rebranded Lync service and "Skype" in name only), officials had no comment. This week, Raghav also declined to comment on what's next for Skype for Business. He noted, however, that Skype consumer and Microsoft Teams, the company's Slack competitor, share the same back-end infrastructure now.
Will Microsoft ultimately replace Skype for Business with Teams, I asked. Raghav said he had no comment.