Microsoft is unveiling the new Skype app for Windows 8, four days ahead of the much-anticipated release of the new operating system.
The software giant is tightly integrating the Skype communications technology into Windows 8, with officials saying Microsoft is making it a key feature in the operating system, putting it front-and-center when a user launches Windows 8.
In a an Oct. 22 post in The Big Blog, Mark Gillett, chief development and operations officer at Skype, said the goal was to make the collaboration tool easy to use and always available on devices running both Windows 8 and Windows RT, the version of the OS aimed at devices running on the ARM system-on-a-chip (SoC) architecture.
“Skype for Windows 8 is fast, fluid and easy to use,” Gillett wrote. “In designing Skype for Windows 8, we wanted to build a truly modern Skype, as comfortable and easy to use with touch as it is with a keyboard and a mouse. With Windows 8, we have built a new full-screen immersive and uncluttered Skype experience, but also bought other great new Windows features to Skype.”
Microsoft is looking to Windows 8 to help the software vendor become a larger presence in the booming tablet market, currently dominated by Apple and its iPad. Like most tech vendors tightly tied to the struggling PC market, Microsoft is looking for ways to expand the reach of its massive software business beyond traditional computers and into mobile devices like tablets and smartphones. Most tablets now run either Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android mobile operating system.
IDC and Gartner analysts said the PC market shrank 8 to 9 percent in the third quarter, while IDC in September upped its forecast for tablet sales, calling for 117.1 million tablets to ship in 2012, and 165.9 million to sell in 2013.
Windows 8 is optimized for tablets, and video communications is a key part of the tablet story. Microsoft bought Skype last year for $8.5 billion.
According to Skype’s Gillett, Windows 8 users will be able to download the Skype app from the Windows Store, after which Skype will appear on the operating system’s Start screen as a live tile. Through the tile, users will not only be able to launch a Skype session, but also will be able to see if they’ve missed a call or have any messages.
Also, once Skype is launched, users will see a list of people they most often contact, and there are easy ways for users to add more favorite contacts. A more modern keypad will make it easier for users to directly call landlines and mobile devices, and with Skype running in the background in Windows 8, “you can be always available and reachable whether you are using a desktop, laptop, tablet or convertible PC with Skype running seamlessly in the background without draining your battery,” Gillett said.
“You’ll be able to receive voice and video calls and chats even if you’ve navigated away to another app or to the desktop, enabling you to stay more connected with your contacts whatever you’re doing. Skype for Windows 8 will notify you about new calls and instant messages so you’ll always know when someone is contacting you.”
In addition, Skype will not be a significant drain on the system’s battery while it runs in the background, according to Gillett.
Microsoft also enabled Skype to work seamlessly with the Windows 8 People app, which essentially is a cloud-based contact list and address book. Users logging into Skype via their Microsoft account will see all their Skype contacts showing up in the People app.
“The People app tells you what your contacts are doing whether on Twitter and Facebook or other social networks, so you can instantly engage and react to their latest photo or post by reaching out to send them a message or to give them a call,” Gillett said. “We’ve designed Skype for Windows 8 to focus on the way you use Skype. Your conversations are more accessible to you than ever, and you can switch fluidly from chat to video or audio calls.”