Interview: the future of Skype

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

There's a lot of video applications too. You might want to turn your face into a parrot, for example. Which is very cool! And uses some pretty sophisticated face-tracking technology, mimicking your mouth movements and so on. All of these types of things bring a lot more richness and depth to the overall experience.

TechRadar: What's the incentive for the developers?

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Mike Bartlett: They can sell their applications in the usual types of way, offering a free trial and so on. We've built a payment mechanism into the developer zone, so users can easily pay for something out of their Skype credit. They don't have that friction of having to go off and enter their credit card details in another way or whatever.

TechRadar: So it's a similar model to Apple's recently launched App Store?

Mike Bartlett: Yeah, that's a pretty close analogy.

TechRadar: So what are the latest product offerings from Skype?

Mike Bartlett: There are a few things. Subscriptions launched last month and is doing pretty well, which allows people to pay a monthly fee and get unlimited calling to landlines, either in their own country or a group of countries or worldwide (with varying fees for each). The value offering with Subscriptions is incredible. People are really picking up on them. We had launched something in the past called SkypePro, but this latest offering is really taking off.

So that's on the paid side. On the free side, we're very engaged in our new version of the desktop software – Skype 4.0 – which is about two things.

Firsty, it's about making Skype a little simpler. As you pointed out, many early adopters have already got on board with Skype, but we are increasingly seeing lots more novice computer using downloading and using Skype. There were two things in particular which we needed to address here – the user interface (UI) was built four years ago as this kind of skinny thing that sat on the side of your desktop and we've built a lot of richness on that over time (IM, file and video sending and so on) – so we have gone for a larger UI and people are now becoming much more aware of stuff that's in there that they maybe didn't know about before. So users are becoming much more aware of the SMS services, of how to import all their contacts (from Outlook, Yahoo or wherever). It's also loads easier to configure all your hardware – your webcams and headsets.

Secondly, there's a much bigger canvas for video and everything works together well now in one window (where before you had numerous windows open, which could prove confusing). You can have chat and video and file/photo sharing and so on all in the same window side by side. You can then easily go back and find that photo that you just sent over to your mum, or whatever it is. So that's all in beta right now and it's coming along really nicely, we're getting some great feedback.

It's a big change. Nobody else has attempted to do a communications client in a larger form factor than what we are used to today. I often talk about it internally in these terms – six or seven years ago, you would listen to music in WinAmp and now everybody uses something like iTunes, which has rich, open browsing and all of that. The difference being that WinAmp is an application you use to play music and iTunes is an application you use to experience music.

Which is exactly what we are doing with desktop communications. It's not just an application any more, communication is an experience. It's something that we do every single day. It's core to human beings, wanting to communicate. So what we are doing is trying to make that a richer experience for people.