When Skype announced the new version of their VoIP software for Windows, many Mac users were left wondering if they were ever going to be invited to join in the fun. Well, we finally got our invitation, because today Skype announced that Mac users everywhere will be bumped up to first-class with a heck of an update.
The new beta version of Skype 5.0 for the Mac includes five new features that will surely give the application a heck of a face lift. Not only is there a new user interface, but Skype will now include group video calling, Mac Address Book integration, a new Contacts display, and a whole new call control bar.
We got a chance to use the beta and have been testing it for the past few days, and we can say with certainty that we like what we see.
Like the Windows version, Skype for Mac has undergone a complete revamp of the user interface, right down to the way you manage your contacts and place a call. All of the same great features about Skype are still there, but you may find them located in different places throughout the application.
The new UI is composed of just one window that has multiple pop-out components, like a dialpad and contacts list. From this one window you have access to all of your contacts in both your Skype list and your Mac OS X Address Book.
When a call is currently in progress, the call screen will fill the Skype window, giving you a distraction free zone for your calls. If you want to return to your opened chats and contact list, you can click on the small shrink button in the call screen interface.
Anyone that does a lot of video calling will appreciate that Mac users can now do group video chats with up to nine people--that is, if your internet bandwidth and Mac meets some specific requirements. If you are doing a chat with up to tgree people, Skype advises all users to have a broadband connection with at least 2mbps downlink and 512kbps uplink. For a video chat with up to five people, they recommend a 4mbps downlink. When you talk about seven to nine video chatting individuals, however, Skype recommends a 8mbps downlink connection, 512kbps uplink, and an Intel Core i7 processor (but they say you may be able to get away using a Core 2 Duo 2.8 Ghz processor).
This group video calling feature is currently free while under beta on both Mac and Windows versions of Skype.
When you attempt to initiate a video call for the first time, you will be prompted to accept a free trial of the group video chatting feature. Unfortunately, you will only be able to use the group video chatting for 28 days before it expires. So, have the time of your life while you still can.
You can initiate a group video call by doing one of a few different things. The first and easiest way is to create a group by selecting “New Contact Group” from the plus button at the bottom left of the new Skype UI. When you do this, you will be able to add multiple contacts to this group.
When you want to start a group video chat with this group, select the small, round video chat button in the group actions. You could optionally choose to add a new person to the group, send files or contacts, start a screen sharing session, or call the group members.
Optionally, you can start a group video chat by selecting up to nine Skype contacts, then clicking the video chat button on one of them.
If you’ve used Skype in the past, you know what a hassle it could be to manually look up your contacts in the Address Book and type them into Skype. Also, if you imported your contacts, then updated them in Address Book, the changes would not carry over to Skype. This hassle is no more thanks to Skype 5.0 beta, and that's because the application will automatically import your contacts into Skype and list them under the “Address Book” section of your Contacts.
By clicking on the Address Book contact list in the left sidebar, Skype will look through your contacts for those contacts with phone numbers, then present them in a listing. From here, you will be able to one-click call or text your contacts. As you make changes in the Address Book application in OS X, the changes will be reflected in Skype.
One of the nifty things about Skype 5.0 is the change that has come to the contacts listing. You are now able to see your contacts in a larger, clearer, and cleaner format. By mousing over any of your contacts, you will be able to instantly start a text chat, video call, or call the persons Skype or physical numbers.
One of the coolest things, however, has to be the inclusion of a Cover Flow-like interface that lets you scroll through your contacts visually. This is especially brilliant if your contacts actually have pictures in their profiles--ours, of course, didn’t.
The thing that bugged us the most in the previous version of Skype was the fact that when you needed to mute the call or do other things in Skype while browsing around on your computer you needed to first find the Skype window. This new version of Skype solves this problem by giving you a tiny heads up display that will let you see who you’re talking to and how long, mute the call, pause the call, and even hang up the call.
Where to Download?
You can find out more information about the new Skype 5.0 beta and download the beta by visiting the Skype blog.
Skype is also offering a giveaway to a lucky user. You could win a free $1500 Apple Store gift card by simply Tweeting your favorite Skype 5.0 feature. Details on the giveaway can be found on the Skype website.
If this all sounds good to you, check out their promotional video below for more information on the new Skype:
Follow this article's author, Cory Bohon on Twitter.