On Friday, Microsoft launched a new Video Messages feature for Skype on the Mac, iOS and Android - but not Windows Phone or even Windows. Why? Because that's not how Skype rolls, a company spokesman essentially said.
The Video Messages feature allows users to record up to three minutes of video, and send them to another Skype user. Skype then embeds the video within Skype chat, to be delivered to the recipient. Users can send up to 20 free Messages using the new feature, but will then be forced to sign up for Skype Premium to continue using the service.
Right now, Skype is characterizing the new feature as a "test," according to a tweet the company published on Friday: "We are testing a great new video messaging feature with a group of mobile and Mac users. We’ll let you know when we extend availability," it said.
The mobile platforms that Skype is testing with appear to be just iOS and Android. People who have chosen other platforms - say, Windows Phone and Windows 8, which are also owned by Microsoft - can use the new Video Messages feature, but only via a link that Skype embeds in the chat function. Microsoft has also said that the new Video Messages feature will eventually be available on other platforms, which presumably include its flagship operating systems. A Skype spokesman declined to say which platforms those would be or what the release timeline might be, however.
Skype's Video Messages (a hands-on is available at the Verge) aren't earth-shattering. One might consider them to be Microsoft's answer to Vine, although the stereotypical Skype usage model is from a desk, with a headset or microphone - not recording a wedding, or a sandwich, or... whatever Vine users have chosen to spend their six seconds of video on. I'm not sure what Video Message could be used for - although a good example might have been a Valentine's Day message to a loved one overseas. Too bad Skype was a day late with that one.
A History Of Doing Things Its Own Way
Really, there is no absolute rule that should force Skype to release a new feature or version of its application on Microsoft's platforms first. But owning an operating system has become critical to developing hardware, just as apps flesh out and give life and vitality to the combination of the operating system plus the hardware. Last October, Microsoft indicated that it would tie Skype deeply into Windows 8, and later Windows Phone 8 - so deeply, in fact, that you couldn't turn it off. Skype will also replace Windows Messenger; Microsoft had previously indicated that change would happen this quarter, although the Verge is now citing an April date.
But a spokesman for Skype said that the company has a legacy of releasing features first for a variety of different platforms, dating back to the days before Microsoft bought the company. "If you look at our track record, we have always released some features here, some features there - that's our history," he said. "I don't think anything has changed."
As an example, he cited HD video calling, a feature that came to Windows before the Mac; the ability to share screens came to the Mac before Windows; the ability to share files came to Android before other platforms; and Skype users on the Macintosh were able to transfer calls to other Mac users first.
"Look, we're testing this," the Skype spokesman said. "We're trying to fine-tune the product... and the plan is to bring this to all Skype products over time."
Skype "does things differently," the spokesman concluded.
Fair enough. But as many have pointed out, Windows developers may already feel a little marginalized by rivals developing on the far more prevalent Android and iOS platforms. The impression, like it or not, is that Microsoft's Skype division feels the same reluctance to emphasize Windows.
Skype may indeed have a legacy of going its own way. But after spending $8 billion for Skype and deeply integrating it within its product lines, however, it's hard to imagine that Microsoft envisioned Skype continuing to steer the ship away from the very developers that the parent company is working so hard to keep loyal.
UPDATE: After this story was posted, a Skype spokesperson emailed the following clarification:
Video Messaging is in early release for testing in several markets for Android, iOS, and Mac with functionality to send and receive video messages. Users in these markets across all Windows desktop and mobile platforms can receive messages, too. We will have send capability in Windows by end of April. In the meantime, we continue to test this new feature in its early release.
Image source: Flickr/Scott Cresswell.