Stop me if you've been driven mad by this before — you launch Skype on an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or some other device you haven't launched it on in a while, and for the next few minutes, if not hours, you're pummeled by notifications going off for messages you've long since seen and conversations you've long since forgotten. Today I opened Skype on my MacBook Air for the first time in 3 or 4 days, and the beeps and bounces went on for over an hour, and now, almost 8 hours later, another batch just popped up. It's even worse on iOS. I haven't launched Skype on my iPhone for long enough that I'm afraid to ever launch it again. That's not only shameful for a company as big as Microsoft and a product as important as Skype, it's inexcusable. And it's only one of many problems...
We use Skype as our primary communications system here at Mobile Nations — no, we can't switch to Hangouts because it's not cross-platform — and that means we have a lot of people we contact frequently, and a lot of semi-permanent group calls and messages we send. Favorite them just perfectly on one machine and know what you get? Absolutely nothing on any other machine. Message sync might be broken, but at least it exists. Not so Favorites sync.
It's not just sync that's silly about Skype either, it's basic interface. I co-host a podcast called Iterate. On the show we interview some of the best app designers in the business, and you know what? Almost none of them can find the do-not-disturb toggle on the Skype interface when we ask them to turn it on. These people create interface for a living, and many have used Skype for years, and that basic bit of functionality is rendered opaque even to them. (It's so frustrating we've actually made a mini-game out of it — stump the designer!)
That's after we have to explain to most guests that Skype has its own audio input selector in Preferences, distinct from the OS-level one in System preferences, and they have to select their mic in both for it not to pick up their built-in instead and ruin the show with fan noise. While I'm sure there are use-cases for alternate audio settings, they're not mainstream ones.
Then there's the problem with different devices showing different availability states. And what's worse — wait for it! — availability sync is broken as well. If you do somehow manage to find the do-no-disturb selector and enable it, another device can wake up, connect, and revert it to "online" mode, so notification noises you wanted to avoid end up ruining your recording anyway.
Same for contact requests and even calls coming in — they show up on one device but not the one you're actually using at the time.
Every day, every show, it's inevitable that someone will wonder out loud how Skype can still have so many issues. We still use it because, annoying as it is, other solutions are just-as if not more annoying. But that doesn't make it okay.
When I started searching for ways to work around some of the problems, I found this, from July of 2013, on the Skype Community:
We have identified some shortcomings in multi-device usage like the ones you described and already started working on addressing these. As you probably understand this requires all involved Skype clients to be updated to work together so it might take a while until you will see the improved experience on your end. But rest assured we are already on it.
It's great that they're working on it, but if it took Skype until July of 2013 simply to realize we now live in a multi-device world, that's decidedly not great. That it's now February 2014 and that too-long-in-coming revelation still hasn't led to any tangible improvements is terrible.
When an app enabled more pain than productivity, when you start to question if it's really worth using it at all anymore, that's a problem. And right now, that's Skype's problem.
Is it just me? Is it a podcaster thing? Is it my desire to impose my expectations upon others? Or am I right — is Skype simply failing to adapt to the multi-device age, and failing to provide the level of service modern users deserve?