Skype, Microsoft’s messaging, voice calling, and video calling service, is announcing today that it has begun to roll out free group video calling functionality on iOS and Android devices in North America and Western Europe. The feature, which supports as many as 25 participants at once, should be working in those markets in the next few days.
“We’ve built an experience optimized for mobile and tablet screens,” the Skype team wrote in a blog post on the news. “You can flip between a highly immersive grid view that makes you feel like you’re in the same room, or you can switch to focus view where Skype automatically focuses on the active speaker, or lets you choose which participant to ‘Pin’ to the stage. The latter view works particularly well when you have a large group on the call.”
Group video calls on mobile is not unique to Skype. It’s already available on Google Hangouts, for one. But Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp properties do not currently offer it; neither does Apple’s FaceTime.
Tens of thousands of people signed up for early access to group video calling when it was first announced last month, Skype corporate vice president Gurdeep Pall said during a press briefing last week. This comes after Skype made group video calls free in 2014. “We saw a 600 percent increase in group calls pretty much overnight,” Pall said. “Last year [we saw a] 22 percent increase in minutes spent on group video calls.”
People don’t need to be Skype users to join a group video call; they only need to click on a link that can be sent out over a variety of apps, and from there they can join using Skype on the Web, according to the blog post.