Microsoft has officially begun the rollout of free group video chats to Skype on iOS and Android mobile devices.
The feature will first arrive on smartphones and tablets across North America and Western Europe, where it will be available in about a week. Microsoft promises mobile group chats will be globally available by March.
The company initially announced the beta version of this feature in January, to mark the 10-year anniversary of Skype's video chats. Users were given the option to pre-register and test group video calling on mobile devices. Microsoft reports "tens of thousands" chose to do so.
[The US Dept. of Defense has started a massive Windows 10 rollout.]
After about one month of undergoing preview tests, the mobile group chat feature is ready for the general public.
The group video calls will be done in HD and optimized for the specific device at hand, Microsoft stated in a blog post on the news. A maximum of 25 people can participate in each call, a major increase from the previous maximum of 5 callers.
Some may view the increase as an opportunity to chat with their entire extended family, as Microsoft describes on the blog. However, it could also prove handy for business users: A 25-person cap provides plenty of room to hold conference calls with your team.
Clear audio comes from the SILK Super Wide Band audio codec in Microsoft's cloud conferencing stack. The tech giant teamed up with Intel to optimize SILK Audio for Azure running on Intel processors.
Video is immersive and full-screen, with the speaker displayed front-and-center. Users have the option to switch between two viewing modes, grid view and focus view, during the call.
Grid view, intended to make you "feel like you're in the same room," makes all participants' images equally sized. In focus view, Skype automatically focuses on the active speaker or lets you select a participant to "pin" to the main window. The latter works well for larger groups, Skype noted.
Inviting attendees will now be easier for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. You will be able to add attendees to pre-existing Skype chats, even if the invitee is not on your contact list or doesn't have a Skype account.
If you want to invite someone to chat, you can share the call's unique link via email, Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, or another messaging service. Skype members who click the link can join via Skype; nonmembers can hop on the call via Skype for Web.
To use the group calling feature, you'll have to be on the latest version of Skype.
Free group video chats are new to Skype, but they're not new to the mobile world. Google Hangouts and Oovoo already offer this feature, though it's worth noting Facebook Messenger and FaceTime do not.
That said, Skype has an enormous audience of users to adopt the group calls. Microsoft has said more than 750 million people have downloaded the calling app on iPhone, iPad, Android device, and Windows Phone.
In its original January announcement, Microsoft included Windows 10 Mobile as one of the platforms to receive Skype's new group calling feature. Today's announcement did not include an update on Windows 10 Mobile, a sign that the app is still in the works.
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