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(Pocket-lint) - Skype has overhauled its iPhone app, Skype for iPhone 5.0, with a new design, new features, and the promise of being considerably faster for those using it.

Pocket-lint was given access ahead of the official rollout to use it in a real environment and see what the changes are like and whether they've made any difference to the experience.

Playing catchup

Skype has found itself in catchup recently. Once the only real viable messaging app on the desktop, the march and rise of mobile devices has meant many alternatives that are quicker, lighter, and in many cases easier to use, have started to challenge the IM service. Offerings like WhatsApp, Line, and Facebook have all eaten into Skype's market, leaving a slow and bloated Skype app struggling to keep up.

Those days, hopes the company, are over, with the introduction of Skype for iPhone 5.0. It is noticeably faster in terms of start up time, and the time that it takes to send and receive messages, which is very much welcomed. 

Side-by-side in anecdotal testing, it is a good 30 seconds faster on boot up, which will make a huge difference in daily use. The vast speed enhancement is because the Skype team completely scrapped the old code and started again.

A new design

Ditching the old code has also meant that the design has changed to herald a new iOS7-friendly design that is more consistent with both iOS7, but also the company's Android and Windows Phone offerings.

Anyone who has used or seen Windows Phone will notice the immediate difference. Unlike your standard iPhone app that involve multiple panels and panes, Skype for iPhone 5.0 lets you slide horizontally to other parts of the app. It is a very Windows Phone experience and it will be interesting to see how iPhone users embrace the new navigation.

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Don't worry, it is very easy swiping left or right to see People, Recent, or Favourites and you'll soon wonder why more apps don't follow suit. 

Once you've found the conversation you want to be part of, or the person you want to message, you simply click on the chat and off you go. You can swipe your way back to the main lists, write something, share an emoji, or start a voice or video call.

Group chats

You can now also start group chats in the app however that still doesn't apply to voice or video calls - you have to be on the desktop for that. You simply select Group Chat and start ticking the people you want to add in. It is very easy. 

Marked as read

Realising that people now use multiple devices, Skype has started to address the problem of what happens when you are accessing your Skype apps from multiple access points.

While your phone will still buzz or notify you when you are getting messages, Skype realises that you've read them elsewhere and will mark them read in the iPhone app and vice versa.

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This is certainly handy if you use Skype on the desktop and then when away from the desk on the iPhone. Unlike previously, you won't get a badge that says 100 unread if you've already read them.

We are still holding out for the day when the iPhone won't buzz because it knows you've got your laptop open; maybe this support will come for Mac users in the guise of Continuity for OS X Yosemite. But at the moment it is still not quite there yet, many because Skype has no way of knowing which device you are actively looking at at any given time. 

Other tweaks

There are other things of course, the option to pull down in any conversation to search, and an improved settings panel that gives you greater control over how you are notified, but for most the experience remains the same as you know, only faster.

First impressions

The Skype for iPhone app sees a huge change in the speed and appearance of the app, but somehow manages to remain a familiar experience to users who've been using it for some time.

The new interface is easy to use and people will quickly warm to it and we've found no major sticking points that would stop us from recommending it.

Writing by Stuart Miles.