skypelanterns.jpg
(Credit: Skype)

Since Skype was purchased by Microsoft for $8.5 billion in 2011, the widely popular communications app has gone through a number of drastic redesigns as it tried to acclimate to its new parent company and an industry that was changing rapidly in many ways.

Skype was one of the first programs to give people another calling option beside their phone company, and it quickly popularized free video and audio calls with the help of a trusty internet connection. It got in the game ahead of the pack in 2003, building up a massive amount of worldwide brand loyalty by becoming one of the main ways for people in different countries to call and see each other over the internet.

SEE: 5 things you can do in 5 minutes to boost your internet privacy

But in recent years the app (download for Android and iOS) has become clunky compared to the company's rival apps -- including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, FaceTime and Discord -- which have all quickly adopted many of Skype's best features and simply done them better. It has had huge struggled with recent updates that have added to its problems. And many users flat out refused to update Skype 7 after it was clear Skype 8 offered a drastically different experience.

In November, Skype unilaterally ended support for "classic" versions of the mobile app, forcing users to either learn how to use the latest version or move on from their beloved app, which many did.

Pivot to business

According to a lengthy Bloomberg article last year, Skype had been seeing dips in the total number of active users for years as WhatsApp and other companies ate into their share of the market. They've plateaued at about 300 million active users, and even the people who owned Skype before Microsoft realized that company had to pivot to something else in order to keep it profitable.

Microsoft has folded Skype into its Office 365 package and markets it heavily to large corporations like General Electric. While it has kept Skype Business and the mobile app separate, the latest redesigns have made it so that both have largely the same underpinnings. Many tech reviewers have noted that there are inherent differences in what businesses and individual users are looking for from a communication app, and those differences are seemingly at odds.

"Microsoft has essentially turned Skype into a replacement for a corporate telephone system -- with a few modern features borrowed from instant messaging, artificial intelligence and social networking," Bloomberg's Dina Bass and Nate Lanxon wrote in May.

"But Microsoft has paid a price for prioritizing corporations over consumers. The former seek robust security, search and the ability to host town halls; the latter ease-of-use and decent call quality. Inevitably, the complexity of the corporate software crowds out the simplicity consumers prefer."

Saving graces

Despite the focus on business customers, the company has made sure to add new features to the mobile app to keep users placated. They are testing clearer video calling capabilities and background blurring now but will be rolling out more changes throughout the year. You can now call users with just your voice through Alexa, allowing you to call out to your smart device and say, "Alexa, call Mom on Skype." When they unveiled the feature in November, they offered 200 free minutes of Skype to landline calling for 34 countries.

One of the perks of Skype's connection to Microsoft is that through the mobile app, you can access your OneDrive account, allowing you to share links to files and folders with anyone through the chat feature. Users can even record their video calls right from the app and save special moments.

Pros

  • Microsoft connection. Skype's integration with a Microsoft Office 365 subscription makes it easy to share files and get work done through the chat feature.
  • Long-distance calling. Skype is still a trusty tool to handle local or international audio and video calls, even though other apps offer similar features within their larger platform.
  • New chat features. Skype has worked hard to improve its chat feature and has spent heavily on improving it with better emojis and customizable platform skins.

Cons

  • Clunky calls. Users still complain mostly about dropped calls and bad audio. Skype's reviews in the App Store are littered with users savaging the app for these problems, but Skype says this usually has more to do with user internet connections than its app.
  • Rough updates. Critics across social media ripped a Microsoft update last year for making the app's interface even more difficult for people used to Skype's simple interface. It has since made changes, but users have not been pleased with how Microsoft has updated the app in the last two years.
  • Desktop focus. Many of the Skype's latest features are rolled out to the desktop version of the app first and in the last few years mobile has taken a clear back seat.

Bottom line

So many of the world's most popular apps are now able to do most of the things people originally went to Skype for, making them somewhat obsolete. The app can still come in handy when making video and audio calls to people in other countries, and their paid calls to landlines make it continually useful for a variety of purposes. But the platform's dip in users prompted a hard shift in focus toward business customers, leaving the mobile app as a distant afterthought.

Despite recent updates and attempts to improve on chat features of the app, Skype has basically ceded its share of the video and audio communication app market. Unless Microsoft can simplify the app and take Skype back to its initially simple interface, it seems users probably won't return to the legacy platform.

Competitive products

  • WhatsApp. WhatsApp (download for Android and iOS) has quickly overtaken Skype as one of the main ways people connect internationally. In recent years the messaging app has added the ability to send audio messages, make audio calls and have video chats as well.
  • Facebook Messenger. Like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger (download for Android and iOS) has been quick to add on features like video chatting that inherently cut into Skype's share of the market and kept people inside the Facebook app universe.
  • Discord. While this platform is centered around gamers, Discord (download for Android and iOS) is a nice communications service that allows users to send chat, create groups, send audio messages and share videos.

FOLLOW Download.com on Twitter for all the latest app news.

Read more

Jonathan is a Contributing Writer for CNET's Download.com. He's a freelance journalist based in New York City. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.