With Facetime Looming, Skype Outs a Better Mac Client

Skype today released a new version of its voice and video calling client for Mac computers: the new Skype 5.0 Beta for Mac offers a redesigned native look and features that are closer to parity with its Windows (s msft) counterpart, such as group video calls. Multiple users can participate in a videoconference, even across platforms; the group feature works on Mac (s aapl) and PC, provided all participants are using Skype 5.0. The new beta client for Mac isn’t all about feature parity with the Windows version; Skype is under pressure from Apple’s FaceTime application, which launched for the iPhone 4 and newest iPod touch, but became available on millions of Mac computers late last month.

To be sure, the new Skype beta for Mac is vastly improved, and if you’re a Skype user, it’s a must to download for your Mac. The client looks much more like a native Mac application, integrates with the Mac OS X Address Book, and supports the sending of instant messages to offline contacts and the ability to search text chat history.

All features are grouped in a well-designed single form, making it easy to perform any function without having to look around for it. Yet, you can still float a dial pad or listing of online contacts separately and these small windows can sit atop any other running apps. All in all, the new Skype beta client is well designed for simplicity, making it easy to use the existing and new functions. Here’s an overview video from the Skype folks, if you’re not convinced the beta upgrade is worth a try:


With Skype previously focused more on its client for Windows (s msft), it’s great to see the Mac version get some major love with features PC owners have been enjoying. I think you can thank Apple, and to a lesser extent, Google (s goog), for this Skype beta. Apple’s release of its FaceTime mobile video client earlier this year sent a shot across the bow of the S.S. Skype, which has generally dominated the video calling space for several years boasting 560 million registered users at the end of 2009.

The real cannon shot, however, was the recent introduction of Apple’s FaceTime for Mac OS X, which connects both Mac and iPhone 4 / iPod touch owners through video calling. Clearly, Skype didn’t just whip this new client together after Apple’s FaceTime introduction, but the Skype team surely has more motivation to improve their software due to the sudden competition.

Case in point: I have a daily video chat with my son, which used to be on Skype or Google Talk, but not any more. We’ve used FaceTime exclusively since it arrived. Perhaps we’re the exception, and Skype users are simply ignoring video call offerings from Apple, Google and other third party developers. But I don’t believe Skype is counting on that as consumers could be looking for simpler solutions that are well integrated to computing platforms. FaceTime for iOS might just move Skype along a little faster when it comes to mobile video clients too.

The fact that I don’t even need FaceTime open on my Mac to accept a call is a huge plus. For example, when my son calls me from his iPhone 4, FaceTime automatically opens and even pauses the iTunes music I’m listening to. Skype is going to battle against such native clients, and by adding features and a more native look-and-feel, it’s starting to do just that with Skype 5.0 for Mac. This is just one skirmish, but as Yoda might say: “Begun the video calling wars, have.”

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