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28 February 2012

Skype for Windows Phone Beta – Great GUI, But Serious Problems

Yesterday Microsoft finally announced the release of the Beta version of Skype for Windows Phone. The new app will make Skype available on almost all leading operating systems for mobile smart phones. As Skype has around 200 million users this is welcome news.

Chats are important to kalmstrom.com
Skype for Windows Phone Beta supports common Skype features like audio and video calls and the one-to-one and group chats that are so important to kalmstrom.com Business Solutions. As our team members are geographically dispersed, we use Skype chats to communicate quickly and safely via our PCs. It would be convenient if we could do the same on our smart phones.

Skype on Windows Phone 7.5
kalmstrom.com Lead Developer Jayant Rimza uses a Windows Phone 7.5, which is the latest version with the Metro interface. He has been waiting long for a possibility to use Skype with his Phone, so yesterday he was eager to test it. His first impression was good. The graphical user interface is awesome and Skype is very easy to operate on the Phone.

Test chat
I chatted with Jayant yesterday evening, and on my PC it looked fine. I could not see when Jayant was writing, though, and that was a bit annoying as I did not know if there was more to come from his side.

Jayant complained that he could not see my replies while he was typing in horizontal mode. He had to change into vertical again to see them.

He also had hoped that the spell check of the Phone key pad would work well with the Skype chat, as it does with other apps. Unfortunately it does not, and I can understand that. Not even Skype for PC has a spell checker for the chat – which sometimes leads to crazy misunderstandings when team members write too quickly!

Another problem was that Jayant could not see what contacts were online in his Phone. He had to select each person to see the status, which of course is a time consuming task. We want to see that at a glance, as we are used to do on our computers.

Problems list
The issues Jayant experienced are not included in the list of known problems in Skype for Windows Phone that Skype has published. As this is a Beta version we do expect some trouble, and it is a good idea to let users know what problems the developers are aware of. For some of them a workaround is given, but for most we can only hope that they will be solved quickly.

Only foreground capacity
Jayant and I agree that one of the problems mentioned in the list is devastating: the Beta version cannot run in the background. This means that it is impossible to receive chat messages and calls if Skype is not in foreground, so in reality you can only use Skype for calls and chats you initiate yourself. This is a serious drawback that makes the app nearly useless, so we really hope this will be fixed before the release of the gold version in April. As it is now I am not sure Skype for Windows Phone should even be called a Beta when such an important feature is not there. Maybe this release came to soon after all?