In a bid to make Skype more social, Microsoft is launching a whole new generation of Skype clients. The big new feature? "Highlights," a way of publishing photos and videos so that your contacts can keep up with what's going on in your life. Highlights are more or less a replica of the Snapchat Story, a way of sharing time-limited pictures and videos to your contacts. It changes the client from being a strictly conversational application (with both one-to-one and group chats) into something that also offers a broadcast style.
While Microsoft's Skype messaging system is still regularly used by hundreds of millions of people, it's not the mindshare winner it once was. A range of mobile-oriented upstarts—including Kik, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Facebook Messenger—have proliferated in the smartphone era. Skype initially struggled in this new world, with its peer-to-peer architecture making it a poor fit for a world where connectivity can be intermittent and conversations are expected to migrate between devices.
Over a number of years, Microsoft has moved Skype to a more conventional client-server architecture, using the opportunity to add useful features such as vastly improved file sharing and offline messaging. With this ground work finally done, the company has been developing a new client, internally named Skype for Life, to try to reconnect with this audience.
Highlights is the result, and Microsoft's goal is to give Skype more of a social element than it has had in the past. This style of sharing originated with Snapchat, where the Story allows publication of messages for 24 hours at a time. It has since been copied by Facebook-owned Instagram, Facebook-owned WhatsApp, and Facebook-owned Facebook Messenger. Skype's variant is a little less ephemeral—Highlights will last for seven days, rather than one—but the intent is to allow a similar style of keeping people updated on your life.
The new Skype client is being rolled out in a staggered fashion and will replace the existing client. Android will be the first platform to switch to the new client, followed by iOS. After that, Microsoft will be updating its desktop clients on Windows and macOS. What this means for platform-specific functionality, such as the SMS syncing available between the Universal Windows Platform apps on Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile, isn't clear.