Interview: the future of Skype

Mike Bartlett, Skype's Director of Product Management, outlines the strategy

In particular, we have seen a lot of growth coming out of North America. We're currently doing some stuff with Oprah over there, for example, where Oprah is using Skype's high quality video because the set-up and is much easier and the quality is better than what's on offer from satellite firms. Of course, we've also had a lot of support from [parent company] eBay in North America, as they have a big footprint there.

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TechRadar: What's the latest on Skype's high quality video offering?

Mike Bartlett: High quality video was launched late last year. We looked at video calling and wanted to increase the quality we were offering at the time. We were leading the market in terms of the quality we were offering and we wanted to quadruple the pixel density we were offering – so we went from 320 x 240 up to 640 x 480 resolution as well as increasing the number of frames per second from 15fps to 30fps, so the picture was more fluid.

We worked very closely with Logitech to develop this. You'll find that there are lots of web cameras on the market that offer those numbers on the box, but that is generally for still pictures not for live motion picture. So what you will find is that the computer requirements needed to compress and send a 640 x 480 picture at 30 frames per second over the internet – well, we just weren't getting the results we wanted with other cameras – and Logitech did some work to move some of the CPU constraints into the actual camera so we could have some space to do the compression and all that sort of thing.

Since we've launched high quality video it is still limited to, I think, around four cameras that can do it. Also remember that the high quality video service is not only about the resolution and the frames per second. It's also how it deals with lighting, for example, if a user is in low-lighting conditions, as they are often in their bedrooms and so on.

Over twenty-five per cent of Skype calls is now over video. It's certainly something we're very focused on. You'll be seeing a lot more from us on the video front next year.

TechRadar: What of competitors? MSN and the like?

Mike Bartlett: Skype is providing a more intimate type of communication that would you would find on MSN Messenger, for example. MSN Messenger is a more IM-centric offering. With Skype, we have instant messaging obviously, but people are using us more for calling, more for video… In some ways you could say that we are competing with MSN, but we actually find that a lot of our users actually run Skype alongside MSN and other IM programmes, where they have their larger, less-intimate network. And they have the people that they really want to talk to and really want to share these intimate experiences on their Skype network.

TechRadar: Can you tell us a little more about Skype's Developer Zone?

Mike Bartlett: Well we do a few things to enable developers to build things on top of Skype, we have a set of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) for programmers to write their own applications. A great example of what's on offer is a piece of software called Skylook which takes Skype and Outlook and kind of fuses the two together – so from Outlook you can immediately click on a contact and create a call with them and so on.

Users can go to an area on our site called Skype Extras in order to discover what's on offer from developers. You can see in the gallery area there what the most popular downloads are, you can grab gaming applications from there (so you can play chess and backgammon with friends, and so on). At the same time as being on a call, you're watching your opponent via the webcam, which is really exciting.