Skype iPhone Multitasking Not Ready for Prime Time.

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July 30, 2010

in General Interest

Skype launches an iPhone multitasking upgrade. As their list of errors and issues shows it’s premature, and from my perspective lacks understanding of how users will want to use it. I’m also stunned that all those iPhone reviewers and general PR blogs just put out the details without seemingly even testing the product. This release is flawed, even Skype’s own Garage Blog highlights some of them. Yet I read the “multi-tasking” comes to Skype headlines without any qualifications or judgments on how good it is.

Skype – Skype Garage blog – Skype 2.0.1 for iPhone – Multitasking and free 3G calling

Now you are able to send Skype to the background while using other applications and receive incoming Skype calls or IM’s. Also Skype will stay online when you lock the device.

So I too was excited to see Skype launch an iPhone app that could run in the background. It then took only about 15 minutes to work out I’ll never want to use it much in that way and it has many glaring oversights in how it utilizes Apple’s notification services.

This new iteration effectively works like Skype on your desktop – ostensibly always working in the background. Which it does. Log-in to iPhone Skype change to another program and you can still get Skype calls. You will also get notifications for multichat updates, new chats from buddies etc. All popping up when ever you are doing something else. This is very different to the little reminder of the Skype icon dancing at the bottom of your mac screen when there there is a new message. (NOTE to be fair Apple’s Notification approach is also broken. The bouncing icon is so much better and others have asked for a lifestream type quick switch option.) So this new iteration of Skype is intrusive, potentially privacy risk, and provides no controls over notifications. Examples:

  • You cannot turn the background feature off in the app you must exit (double click, hold finger and remove) to now exit Skype. This is an extra step if you don’t want it running in the background. For example you don’t want it running up your data plan usage or apparently reducing your battery life. OR you can go to your phone skype profile and set your Skype Status to “OFFLINE”. This little hint wasn’t at all intuitive to me.
  • You have no discrete controls over Calls. Eg Should I take notifications for all calls, just some Skype calls or just my Skype-In number. With Skype over 3G Skype running in the background is effectively a second line running on your phone.
  • If you are smart and run a password on your iPhone and have call forwarding activated you won’t get through your password and answering the skype call before Skype forwards it to your mobile phone.
  • You have no control over notification types. Eg I want notifications for calls – but not new chats. Or again notifications for buddy chats but not mulitichats. Skype had an opportunity to show how it should be done.
  • Notifications fail to provide a “privacy setting”. All notifications are effectively public. Most other notification apps enable different forms of notification. Eg ring only, or ring and text, text only. Etc. This lack of control suggests Skype just rushed this iteration into the App store.

Jim Courtney write that a lot of this is Apple’s problem and shares a Truphone example.  Apple iOS4: Multi-tasking, eh? | Voyces

So, we’re doing something about it. We just pushed a new version into the App Store that has all the features you know and love from Truphone, but temporarily it doesn’t have the feature that allows people to call you even when the app isn’t open.

I don’t buy this POV. Notification services aren’t running the battery down for other apps. I use various notification services all the time. I’ll run some tests over the next few days running my Skype constantly in the background (the notifications will be annoying – multichats!). The Skype isssue is how they manage these “signals” or notifications. I can guess what they’ve done to get it working. The problem is…. Skype wasn’t designed to send signals and notifications outside it’s closed system in the first place.

Skype’s rush to add multi-tasking and perhaps soon other features is likely to put iphone skype in that cobbled together space. The danger is Skype will no longer be an elegant solution. On the desktop you could just talk. On the mobile we’ve always done that. In FaceTime we can now Video Call from the mobile (sometimes – wifi). Skype thought about itself as “telephony that just works” – ON A DESKTOP. The problem now is that’s irrelevant to the mobile world and the value of cheap calls isn’t enough.

I’ll be blogging some posts I wrote some weeks ago on FaceTime in the next few days. Almost everything I see emerging around Facetime are solutions and suggestions made to / for Skype five years ago. Skype still has a healthy growing business. It just no longer has either a consumer edge or an innovative approach to creating new interaction opportunities.

There’s still a lot to like about Skype. However, if I was one of the investors I’d be skeptical and I doubt their share price would be heading up.

Update: Yep Skype is killing my battery running in the background. Plus got a GSM call while on a Skype Call. The Skype call dropped while it seemed we were in a 3 way conference. May have to test that now again.

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  • Good article… I did a post today on Skype issues today… also have an older post on Facetime. Apple did a nice job and at the same time found a great way to collect (SIP) users in their own controlled network.

    I had similar issues with Skype and multitasking. Interesting on the battery drain… TCP-based services should not drain the battery (given the VoIP API Apple provides).

  • Hi Stuart,

    Hope you are well. I just wanted to point out the Line2 works great on iOS4 and supports backgrounding without being intrusive or running down your battery. Not sure what’s going on with TruPhone and Skype. Skype sounds like they didn’t really think through the usability, while in the case of TruPhone it sounds like they actually couldn’t get it to work right. In their defense iOS4 has emerged to be a very tricky beast, in part because its still new and Apple has not worked out all the bugs. It took a lot of testing but we did get Line2 to work well on iOS4, and its ability to run in the background is a game changer in terms of usability.

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  • Hi Peter, I’d be happy to try it out. There remain many good reasons for having a second line on a mobile. They won’t go away in a hurry. Thanks for commenting. Stuart

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