Microsoft Lets Skypers Leave Face Mail
Even though voice mail has been losing popularity in recent years, with text messaging taking its place, Microsoft seems to think that mobile users will take to face mail. It just launched a beta version of a video messaging service for Skype. Aside from providing another channel for titillation, there's no obvious use case for the service -- certainly none that would translate into revenue.
Microsoft announced on Friday that Skype users will now be able to leave video messages via the Voice over IP service. This new messaging service, which is now undergoing a beta test, will allow users to send video recordings to contacts even if they're offline or on another call.
What's different about this announcement is that it seems aimed more at mobile users than the traditional desktop users of Skype. Users on Windows who receive the video messages will receive a link rather than a video clip, while Android, iOS and even Mac users will receive a video message in their mailbox.
All Skype users will need the most recent software update to utilize the service.
Microsoft is pitching this as an alternative to traditional text or voice messages.
"Skype Video Messaging lets you stay connected with your friends via Skype even when they aren't available," said Microsoft spokesperson Tara Gremillion. "You can now communicate with family and friends, even when they are busy."
Where's the Demand?
While text messaging is widely used for quick exchanges that don't warrant a phone call and voice mail still has its place, the question needs to be asked -- who exactly could benefit from a video message?
"It is like video phone mail, but I can't picture anyone who would want to use it," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
"The business use isn't there, but it could be something for kids who want to leave messages for parents or a modification of a grandma camera," he suggested.
"It is so much easier to leave a voice mail message or send an instant message," Enderle told TechNewsWorld. "The exception would be if you wanted to send multiple people a clip from your vacation. That sort of thing might be worth it."
Video messaging seems to be a solution without a need -- circumstances that would make a video message worth a thousand words.
"There is a culture change that has to take place," said Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Research. "There hasn't been a reason to use video messaging so far, but it is possible it will become popular. Once you see other people do it, it won't be so strange."
This chicken-and-egg scenario could be solved by the next generation.
"Younger users are much more likely to open to this sort of thing," Sterling told TechNewsWorld.
Given that virtually any Skype user with a smartphone will have the potential to take advantage of this service also means there could be a large audience instantly.
"It sounds logical that if voice mail, email, texting and the assorted other kinds of messaging we use today are popular, that video messaging would be a hit," said industry analyst Jeff Kagan, "but it's not -- not yet anyway. One reason is many people don't have an easy ability to use this kind of service. So unless they really want to, or have to, they don't."
Skype's service could change this, but the question still remains if people will want to leave those messages? While voice mail is the sort of thing users can leave while walking down the street, shuffling papers on a desk or in places they probably shouldn't -- namely the bathroom -- video messages require more attention and (hopefully) more suitable environments.
"How often do we simply hit the send button when we aren't really camera ready?" pondered Kagan. "We can't do that with video conferencing."
Beyond Cheap Calls
Clearly, Microsoft is looking to do more with Skype, which it acquired in May of 2011 for a reported $8.5 billion. The service had already established itself as a way to make free Skype-to-Skype calls and affordable Skype-to-landline calls around the world.
Microsoft has been looking for some time to better integrate the VoIP service with its own offerings, and it finally seems to be doing so by combining it with Windows Messenger. Whether this is good business sense for Microsoft is the question. It may be missing the real value of its acquisition.
"There are a number of things that Microsoft could be doing with Skype," said Sterling. "It could be used as a pay-per-call or call-tracking tool for one."
As for video messaging, if it does take off, it's probably not going to be on the desktop.
"Visual messaging will be on mobile more than PC, for many reasons," Sterling noted. "The camera is there on the phone, and it is more consistent with mobile devices. That is where the adoption will come."