Today Skype launched an attack on sending photos via Apple's iMessage, via email or via traditional SMS/MMS with the release of photo sharing for the iPhone and iPad versions of Skype. The key point of the blog post to me is this:
There's no limit on the size of the file you can send, so you can send photos without reaching email size limits or paying expensive MMS charges.
This is yet another example of Skype seeking to disrupt the traditional telecom industry as an "over-the-top (OTT)" app - and make the user experience that much easier. (And yes, I am fully aware that Skype for Android has had file sharing since December 2011.)
Skype's blog post doesn't directly mention Apple's iMessage, but that's the reality of what else will be disrupted. Think about it... here is what you have for options inside the built-in "Photos" capability of an iPhone:
You can either email the photo or use the "Message" which goes either through the traditional SMS/MMS route - or via iMessage. This Skype functionality replaces both of those capabilities... although you need to be in the Skype application to use the sharing. Note that for a reason I'll explain later, Skype's photo sharing does NOT replace what you can share with Twitter.
Using Photo Sharing on an iPhone
I'll admit that I didn't find the sharing of the photo immediately intuitive on the iPhone, largely because Skype overloaded the "phone" icon in the upper right corner to do more than just initiate a call. In the new version, after you enter a chat with someone and tap the phone icon, you get a menu where you can share the photo:
After choosing to send a photo, you then can choose to take a new photo or share an existing photo:
The recipient then needs to accept the photo transfer, after which you see an indicator bar showing the progress - and then the fact that the photo was transferred:
From a recipient point of view, receiving the photo is simply a matter of watching the blue progress bar and then seeing the photo displayed:
I'll note that it displays nicely in a landscape view as well, although the photo is actually displayed larger in the portrait view:
All in all a fairly straightforward experience and I thank my friend Dean Elwood for helping me test this out. The re-use of the "phone" icon is a bit strange - and non-intuitive - but once you get used to that it's okay.
Using Photo Sharing on an iPad
Photo sharing on the iPad was very similar, with the added benefit that the icon in the upper right was the much more intuitive "+" symbol. Again, when in a chat with someone you just touch the "+" and choose "Send Photo":
You again have the choice to take a photo or use an existing photo:
After which the photo nicely appears within the Skype client:
Again, a rather straightforward and easy user experience.
The Desktop Disconnect
While this works great for sending photos between iOS devices (and I will assume to Android devices), the user of the traditional Skype desktop app does not have such a seamless experience. Here is what happened when I accepted a photo from Dean in the latest Skype for Mac version:
I then had to double-click the icon to open the image in the separate "Preview" application on my Mac. It would be great if in some future version of the desktop version of Skype the images would be displayed inline as they are on the mobile versions.
The Android Difference
It's also interesting to note that Skype for Android lets you share any kind of files, beyond just photos. As noted in the Skype for Android FAQ:
You can send and receive any type of file over Skype for Android and can view any file you receive as long as you have the necessary software or application installed. There are no limits on the size of the file you can send. As long as the person you’re sending the file to has enough memory on their phone, they can store the file.
Several mobile developer friends have indicated that this is due to the difference in the mobile operating systems and the fact that Android gives developers access to more file capabilities than does iOS. Still, it's just an interesting difference between the platforms.
Not Displacing Facebook / Instagram / Google+ / Twitter / etc.
My initial thought on seeing Skype's blog post was that Skype was going to try to take on photo sharing services like Facebook, Instagram, Google+ or even Twitter. It became rapidly clear that this photo sharing service is NOT attempting to do that (yet, anyway). A couple of reasons:
1. It only works with 1-to-1 chats. You can only get that "Send Photo" button when you are in a direct, 1-to-1 chat with another Skype user. When you are in a group chat, there is no way to share a photo. If there was, you could start using groups as a way to share photos... but that capability isn't there.
2. There is no web access for photos. When you share a photo there is no URL you could give someone else to see the photo. The photo does not appear to be stored on any server anywhere. Rather it is simply transferred from one local Skype client to another local Skype client.
3. Both Skype clients must be online. The sender and recipient both have to be online for the photo to be transferred. This is true of all Skype file transfers and photos are no different.
For the moment this seems all about sharing a photo with someone else with whom you are conversing.
So Who Will Use This Photo Sharing in Skype?
But will people actually use this new feature? After all, Skype's blog post today refers to this as "a frequently requested feature." (Although without any details about by whom it was requested.)
I'm going to guess that Skype's proverbial use case is that you were out during the day, took some photos, and then some time later are in a voice or video call with someone and want to share the photos of what you did earlier. It's the old "Look, Grandma, here are some great photos of us at the amusement park!"
Or maybe you came back from a trip and want to share some photos with someone you call... or maybe you are in the midst of a trip and want to call home and share the photos. ("Hey, Dan, just calling you from our hotel in Rome. Look at all the cool cathedrals we saw over the last few days!")
I could see that usage... subject to my caveat below.
The Battery Problem
Skype's blog post shows the case of a young woman sending a photo to a friend of some new shoes she found. As compelling as this might be...
... I would never use Skype this way!
Or at least... I haven't yet.
Skype for iOS drains the battery rather quickly!
For that reason I never leave Skype running on either my iPad or iPhone. I do use Skype while traveling, but it's a case of firing up Skype, making the call and then killing off Skype on the iOS device so that the batteries will last longer.
Instead for sharing photos I would simply send off the photo via Apple's iMessage... or email the photo to someone.
Now, in Skype's post today, they indicate that this new release for iOS includes performance improvements that will help with battery life:
We've also improved the overall performance of Skype's mobile apps. We've made them less battery hungry when running in the background, so you'll now be able to answer Skype calls throughout the day when they come in. And, as you'll be able to keep Skype open, you can respond to or send IMs to friends and colleagues all day long.
That, to me, will be the key for the usage and adoption of this photo sharing. I need to be comfortable leaving Skype running on my iOS devices - and so do my recipients. If we all get to the point where Skype is just "always on" on our iOS (and Android) devices... then yes, we might start using this as a way to share photos.
Undoubtedly that is how Skype / Microsoft would like the scenario to play out... we'll have to see how indeed that does work out.
What do you think? Will you use this photo sharing within Skype for the iPhone or iPad? Or will you use one of the other ways to share photos within iOS?
UPDATE, 22 Aug 2012 - Jim Courtney published a piece with his views: Skype Photo Sharing: A Conversation Feature – Not an App
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