MICROSOFT'S SKYPE SERVICE has introduced free group chats for up to ten people on tablets and convertible devices.
Previously a premium feature, all video calls with more than two but less than eleven people are now gratis on tablets, joining the free service across Windows, Mac and Xbox One devices, with updates to Skype client software for other operating systems to be rolled out later.
Although the technology to allow video calling has been around for 50 years, it remains for most the stuff of science fiction and the decision to remove the premium pricing attached to group calling can be seen as an attempt to normalise the practice.
On the Skype blog, readers were told "In April, we made our group video calling experience free to existing platforms, with additional device support coming soon. Since then, we’ve seen a fantastic four fold increase in group video calls, and now we’re bringing the feature to Windows tablets and Windows 2 in 1 devices."
Since Microsoft took over Skype in 2011, it has worked on a back to basics approach that has resulted in the nearly complete closure of its APIs, locking out third-party developers, as it sought to achieve feature parity across all operating systems.
However, with the rise of alternatives including Viber, Apple's Facetime, Google Hangouts and Facebook Messenger, the company is increasingly having to review its services to ensure that it remains competitive.
The most recent challenge comes from Silent Circle, a secure messaging and calling app which claims to cover "four to five times" the territory of Skype, with the added appeal of encryption. µ