It’s a mobile messaging world, and Skype, which claims 300 million users of its VoIP service, has just joined the club.
Last week, the company introduced Skype Qik, a mobile app that lets users send videos up to 42 seconds long to a friend or a group of friends. The video messages disappear after two weeks. The app is built on some of the technology that Skype acquired when it bought a video streaming service called — you guessed it — Qik, back in 2011. The new Skype Qik is free to use, and it works on iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices.
After using it for the past week, I think Skype Qik checks off all of the boxes of today’s messaging apps — it’s easy to use and spontaneous, and it brings fluidity to group video messaging. Rather than speaking over one another as you might in a preplanned Skype video chat, each person records his or her own little snippet and adds it to an ongoing thread.
I can’t speak for the coworkers I coerced into testing with me this week, but I know I had fun testing Skype Qik. (Walt Mossberg said it was annoying.)
However, it has one notable design quirk, and doesn’t allow photo or text messaging, which many other social messaging apps include. Perhaps most significantly, Skype Qik doesn’t tie into your existing Skype network, and it doesn’t allow those not using Skype Qik to view your video messages.
So, in my case, I had to ask friends and colleagues to try out a brand-new messaging app with me, and I’m not sure if they’ll keep using it. Which means I might not, either.
This network effect is something that affects — and in many cases, benefits — all messaging apps. Social messaging apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp made up the fastest-growing segment of mobile apps in 2013. Facebook now has managed to force its users into Facebook Messenger (even Facebook-owned Instagram has a chat feature called Instagram Direct). An 18-month-old app called Glide works very similarly to Qik, and also allows live video chatting and text messaging. And these are just a handful of the messaging apps available.
Many have overlapping features. Disappearing photos and videos! Group messaging! Text messages with emojis! What it really comes down to, for most consumers, is which app has managed to suck in the people in their personal networks. Case in point: I wrote off Snapchat a couple years ago, but still haven’t deleted my account — partly because I can’t find the darn delete option, and partly because more and more of my friends are adopting it and sending me snaps.
Could Skype Qik catch on? It’s quite possible. But given that it’s video-only, it’s hard to imagine this becoming the new Snapchat.
Let’s say you want to give it a try. After downloading Skype Qik onto your smartphone, you’ll be prompted to enter in your mobile number. You don’t use your Skype login and password; again, this app is meant to operate separately from Skype.
Using your mobile number to sign up also means that you can only run Skype Qik on that particular smartphone. You can’t use it across different devices.
Finally, you’ll give Skype Qik access to your smartphone’s address book, camera and microphone, and you’re ready to start taping video messages.
Taping these video snippets should be the easiest thing in the world — there’s a bright red “record” button on the home screen of the app — but in my tests, everyone’s early Qik videos, including my own, started off with a blank stare into the camera. This is because when you tap the red virtual button for the second time, it’s not evident whether the app has started recording or not. Eventually, you see a progress line moving around the edge of the red button, but it’s just not super obvious.
You can record these clips using either the front-facing camera, which is mostly how we Re/coders used the app, or the rear camera. You can also switch cameras while recording.
After taping a video up to 42 seconds long (42 is the limit, Skype says, because it’s the answer to life, the universe and everything), you can send it to a single contact or a group of friends. If the recipients haven’t downloaded Skype Qik yet, you can send them an SMS with a link to the video — but they’ll still have to download the app to view the video.
Now let’s say your friends, or coworkers, respond with Qik messages of their own. All messages in the thread will appear as little bubbles below the record screen. So, the home screen of the app will show a list of your message threads, and as you tap on each of those, you’ll see the string of message bubbles within the thread. These will play sequentially.
If you happen to be in an environment where you can’t respond, you can send one of several prerecorded “Qik Fliks.” I created a Qik Flik that parodied a default voicemail message, and sent that as a quick response when I didn’t feel like recording a new video.
As I said, I got a kick out of the Qik thread that fellow reviewers Walt, Bonnie, Katie and I kept alive this week. Our video snippets consisted of first impressions of the app, bad jokes, good-luck wishes before a big road race, and get-well wishes when one of us got sick. I sent Qik videos to another Re/code colleague, as well, but he doesn’t use the app, and never responded. I also roped my boyfriend into using the app — at this point, he’s used to my many tech tests and experimentation.
Unfortunately, there are no other options for sharing or exporting the videos recorded in Skype Qik. There are also a couple of limitations specific to operating systems. On iPhone, users can’t block other users from sending them Skype Qik messages. On Windows, users can view Qik Fliks sent by others, but currently can’t record or save their own.
If you can get your friends to use Skype Qik, you might like it. Otherwise, it’s just another messaging app on your phone.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.