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Skype Qik wants to replace instant messages with video conversations

Tom Morgan
14 Oct 2014
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Skype's latest venture has the potential to change the way we send instant messages - get the lowdown now

Skype has officially revealed Skype Qik, a free instant messaging app based around video conversations which is the company's first to separate from the main Skype brand. There are plenty of video sharing apps already, but the likes of Vine and Instagram are used almost exclusively for one way sharing - friends and followers can like or comment, but there's no way to continue the conversation. Skype wants to change that with Qik.

Built from the ground up to be quick, simple and intuitive to use, Skype wants Qik to be as fast, if not faster, than IM or text messaging. Rather than type out a message, you can simply film yourself speaking naturally, with the background of the clip providing context. Clips can be mere seconds long, and the maximum recording length is 42 seconds (a Douglas Adams in-joke). Qik shoots square videos, with Skype developing a dedicated encoding algorithm for each mobile operating system to cut down on processing time and reduce file size. We were told the average message is no larger than one or two full-size photos, which should mean you're able to keep a conversation going over 3G or 4G without rinsing your mobile data allowance.

There's no faffing about with editing - the one onscreen button starts recording with one tap and sends your clip with a second. There's no timeline scrubbing to get to a specific point in a video, as they aren't long enough to warrant its inclusion, and this helps keep the interface as simple as possible. If you do decide you don't like your last recorded message, you can choose to delete it even after it has been sent; doing so will delete the clip from your phone and any contacts you sent it to. Left untouched, a video will delete itself in two weeks, from all devices and from Skype's cloud servers.

The main window displays your list of video conversations, with a live preview from your front-facing camera faded out in the background. The app defaults to the front-facing camera, but you can flip it with a tap to use your phone's rear facing camera when filming messages. Pulling down from the top of the screen opens the viewfinder for recording your own messages, or tapping on a chat opens the video timeline. A row of icons at the bottom of the screen show sent and received messages, with a Skype algorithm used to pull out the crispest frame from the video to use as a thumbnail. Tapping a message will play the conversation from that point, automatically playing replies until you get to the latest message so you know the context you're replying to. Every animation is smooth and the entire app is very responsive across iOS, Android and Windows Phone - justifying Skype's choice of name.

When you recieve a new Qik message, or someone replies to one of your messages, you won't get a notification on your phone until the clip has downloaded. On Android, the expanded notification in the notification tray will show a thumbnail of the clip so you can see at a glance who it's from, and tapping it will open the app and play the pre-loaded clip automatically. Because the app doesn't run in the background, there won't be any battery life penalty for using it, either - unlike other instant messaging apps we've used in the past. 

There's no need to poke all your friends to download the app before you start firing out messages: by default Qik scans your phone for contacts and lets you send messages to anyone in the list, even if they don't yet have the app installed. They will receive a text message prompting them to install the app to watch the video clip.

Qik isn't just a one to one messaging app, either. You can also send videos to a group of friends, with everyone keeping track of the conversation and chipping in their own video replies. There's no limit to the number of people you can include in a group, although it "can get a little noisy" when hundreds of people are all contributing to a thread. The app keeps things simple, showing the last eight messages in a thread by default, but you can swipe to the side to see previous messages. Like 1-1 chats, messages delete themselves after two weeks, and the app will also delete the oldest entries from busy conversations to save space - if you want to watch them again they can be downloaded from the Skype servers with a tap.

But what about The times when you aren't able to send a video reply? There's no way to send text messages, but Skype has included Qik Fliks - video emojis you can record yourself ahead of time to let your friends know whether you approve or disapprove of their last message. You can store up to 12 videos, each five seconds long, for quick responses without having to film yourself in the moment.

Qik is a mobile-only app; there's no Desktop, smart TV or games console alternative like there is with Skype. The company says that as 50% of all users registering for Skype do so with a mobile, and with the market rapidly transitioning to smartphones and tablets from traditional Desktop and laptop PCs, a mobile first approach made the most sense. Qik will be launching on all three major mobile platforms, so there's no need to worry about whether your friends have a particular make or model of phone. There are a few limitations; you'll need to have an iPhone 4 or newer, or be running Windows Phone 8.1 or Android 4.1, but that's a significant majority of the smartphone-owning population. Price was an easy decision too, according to Skype's Partner Director Pierro Sierra. "Skype Qik is a new app for us - it's our first companion app and we want to hear what people have to say about it. It will be completely free, with no adverts."

Based on what we've seen, Skype Qik is a fresh new way to keep in touch with friends and family, no matter where you are. The short video length, small file size and instant nature of each message makes it perfect for using on the move, for when it's not practical to have a long conversation or when you don't want to type a wall of text. We can't wait to see whether the public has the same idea.

Skype Qik should be available by the time you read this, on iOS, Android and Windows Phone. It is launching initially in 21 languages, and will be completely free.

Have you downloaded Skype Qik? How are you getting on with video conversations? Let us know in the comments!

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