Skype Avatar
Skype for OS X and iOS hasn’t attracted a legion of fans. In context of form ‘dumbed down’ hardly begins to describe the experience, condescension runs through the UI like crayon in a toddler’s pencil.

Functionally there’s not much to talk about either, the app lets you make free and cheap calls and if you have friends, colleagues and acquaintances in the silo the IM is alright.

That’s it.

By dint of circumstance I happen to be one of the 6% of Skype customers paying to make calls through their service. For me this is a legacy issue: a) I always had a Skype account open for comparison route testing when I was doing VoIP stuff; b) sometimes I need to make cheap calls to landlines and mobiles and there’s credit in the account. One day I’ll switch the auto top-up off and choose another service but for now, describe me as occasional user.

With an eye to the little big details, one of the things that really hacks me off is the lack of personalisation in what is, to all intents and purposes, a phonebook app. Amazingly (and stupidly) you are only allowed to upload pictures of your contacts if they use Skype. If your principle use of the app is SkypeOut – making old fashioned phone calls to people, businesses and conference call bridges – then I hope you like the default blue avatar next to your contact’s name because you’ll see an awful lot of it.

Think about that for a moment. SkypeOut users – revenue generating customers – are not allowed to personalise their address book: no nicknames, no birthdates, no email addresses, no company names, no addresses, no upload of profile photos; just a bunch of phone numbers if you so please.

What a dull and useless user experience.

Perhaps driven by a notion that the core product improves the more people use it and encourage their circles to join them in using it, PMs have chosen not to add any personalisation to the SkypeOut feature; I’m sure engineering would definitely be gung-ho pro a decision that lightens the load on Skype’s notoriously distributed network, unlike the contact log images would not be stored locally.

Adding pictures to contacts has been a feature request in the Skype community for years. Of course, you can’t trace this back through time as Skype has a habit of ‘refreshing’ its forum, removing old posts (read: complaints) in the process.

Nobody knows whether Microsoft will give a hoot about SkypeOut revenue ‘going forward’ – I think it’s unlikely we’ll see a more enjoyable experience for Skype’s paying customers anytime soon.

As for the failing call quality – how long have you got?