The news of Window 11 releasing later this year brought with it an interesting bit of information. It would appear that Microsoft is going to drop Skype, leaving it out of the basic install package in favour of Microsoft Teams.
This is a pretty big deal considering Microsoft paid the best part of $8.5 billion back in 2011 for the social software. It’s hard to say if the purchase was a worthwhile investment. Microsoft monetised the app, doubling down on subscriptions and credits.
In the years following the acquisition it felt like PC users moved on to other applications. Programs like TeamSpeak and Discord provided a better service, without the overly aggressive monetisation aspects. In the last few years I’ve barely heard anyone mention Skype.
The downfall of Skype bears a striking resemblance to the failed Windows Phone. Another Microsoft project that started out well, but quickly faded into obscurity after stronger competition appeared on the market.
Founded in 2003 as a voice-over-IP service, Skype was developed in Estonia. The original release only allowed users to make calls over the internet from PC to PC. Its major break would arrive when the developers added PC-to-landline phone calls. This made the application much more attractive to businesses who could build a cheaper net infrastructure around Skype.
In 2005, the original owners of the app sold it to eBay for $2.6 billion. A year later, eBay introduced video calling marking a major milestone for the app and a huge step forward. A year before Microsoft purchased the app, Skype was released on mobiles and Apple devices. This change allowed users to make free internet phone calls from anywhere with a connection.
When Microsoft picked the app up in 2011, it should have been smooth sailing from there on out. This was one of the biggest communication tools on the planet, with an established global user base now backed by one of the world's largest companies. However, Microsoft chose to redesign the app, with a focus on gimmicky features that ultimately took away from what made the service great.
Windows on the go
Windows Phones should've been a similairly easy success story. Microsoft has one of the most recognisable brands in the world, so the launch of the Windows Phones should have been the first step to global domination. Microsoft first launched the Windows Phones in late 2010, following on from Windows Mobile and Zune.
Unlike Android, which followed the template set by Apple, Windows Phones had a unique operating system. It handled notifications and information delivery in a unique way and was incredibly smooth to use. It's no surprise that the OS still has a dedicated following to this day.
Manufacturers believed in Windows Phone as well. The likes of Nokia and HTC both released flagship devices which came installed with Windows Phone . The Nokia Lumia 1020, which released in 2013. was a trailblazer touting touting a 41MP camera. Consdering the focvus on camera quality in the industry now, the Lumia 1020 was well ahead of the curve in providing something the rest of the industry would later adapt. Much like Skype, Windows Phone devices offered something different and introduced elements its competitors would later copy, but more succesfully.
Writing’s On The Wall
Microsoft’s muddled focus and lack of faith in Skype was visible for all to see when, in 2019, it announced plans to retire Skype for Business in favour of Microsoft Teams in 2021. It still hasn’t announced the closure of the normal Skype service, but it only feels like a matter of time until Microsoft pulls the plug completely.
The Windows Phone similarly went through several missteps on its approach to Microsoft’s inevitable cancellation. Mismanagement, a lack of commitment and a lack of creativity against competitors like Apple and Android meant Windows Phone was doomed. What could have been Apple’s biggest competitor was instead a whimper in the market. One of the Windows Phones biggest problems stemmed from Microsoft's strict approach to app development. Developing for the OS was difficult, which meant the Windows Phones missed out on apps available on other platforms.
Whatever the reason, it was clear the writing was on the wall for Windows mobile phones long before Microsoft pulled the plug. No matter Skype’s fate, I think it’s important to remember the positive effect it had not only on the internet but also on culture. At one point it literally became the go-to verb for when you were going to call someone on the internet.
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Both the Windows Phone and Skype were incredibly important. Windows Phones offered users a different OS to Android and iOS. Many of its features, including the way it handled notifications, have been adopted by both Android and Apple in the years following its discontinuation. Like Skype, it was Microsoft's management that doomed the operating system.
Skype is exactly the same. It was the first of its kind, offering the kind of connectivity users hadn’t experienced on the internet before. At one point, Skype was the de facto app for any online calls. It was used by gamers, it was used by friends and it had a major presence in the world of business. The likes of Zoom and Discord followed in the path of the established template, improving on what Skype failed to do.
When - not if - Microsoft pulls the plug on its $8.2 billion investment, I think it’s important that Skype receives the send off it deserves. At the very least, we know its legacy will live on in Microsoft Teams.