On Turesday, Skype debuted Skype Qik, a “spontaneous” video chat app that allows you to fire off video messages to a group of friends, react to them, and rest easy in the fact that they’ll disappear in two weeks’ time.
That may seem like a mouthful, but that’s about the only way to differentiate an instant messaging app these days. Even labels like “instant messaging” and “chat” and “anonymous chat” and “video communications” are becoming meaningless as apps evolve and absorb the features of their competitors.
Why this matters: Now there’s Skype Qik, which—although it carries the Skype name—sits outside Skype itself. It doesn’t use your Skype contacts, just the numbers stored in your phone. But it’s just another mode of connecting with Skype friends, because video chats are too formal and instant messages are simply too casual—even with the embedded documents and pictures that the recent Mac and Windows updates added to the Skype app.
Lightweight, yet intimate
“Imagine if you could reinvent the Skype experience, taking into account how messaging, selfies and app culture have changed the way we communicate,” Dan Chastney and Piero Sierra, two Skype executives working at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post. Qik is designed to be lightweight and intimate, with the ability for you to organize groups of friends and send them quick video messages.
Sound familiar? Of course. Embedding snippets of video like Facebook Messenger is the next step beyond embedding snippets of audio, as iOS 8’s Messages previously did. And sending messages with a self-destruct fuse attached is certainly reminiscent of Snapchat as well.
Then there’s Samba, an iOS app that promises a more genuine give-and-take of emotions as it actually records your reaction to a video that you receive. Since that might not necessarily evoke the spontaneous “OMG” that the video creator has hoped for, Skype Qik allows you to create “Qik Fliks,” GIF-like 5-second videos that you can create and store. So, for amazing news, you might create a Flik of a (fake) head exploding. Or a short clip of you rolling around in laughter to illustrate the typical “LOL” response.
Normally, apps that blink into existence face an uphill battle, simply because they require all parties to have the app installed. And that’s still true for Qik. On the other hand, chances are you that you have a Skype username, which gives Qik a leg up. And the app will be available on all major smartphone platforms: Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.
Will Skype pull a Facebook and require users to install Qik? That’s doubtful, as it doesn’t really replace video chat. But over time, it seems like Qik will have to become a component of Skype —and use your friends’ Skype contacts—if it hopes to gain real traction.
Correction:Skype Qik contacts your friends by their phone numbers, not their Skype usernames.
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As PCWorld's senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.
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