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Microsoft Gives Skype a Facelift

Microsoft is rebuilding its Skype client communications interface "from the ground up," and it's now available for those with Android phones and planned for iOS devices soon. Windows and Mac versions are slated for release over the next few months. Skype's new look is both cosmetic and functional as it offers a platform for intelligent bots that can let people use it to search for information, products and services.

The revamp applies to the free Skype consumer client that's also now included with Windows. The move is an ambitious push to pick up more mainstream user support by bringing modern communications services to the app. The wholesale rebuilding of Skype fits with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's goal to bring conversational computing to the mainstream. However, standing out among options from the likes of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook, and even apps that are popular with millennials such as Snapchat, will be challenging.

Images of the new Skype show an entirely new modern interface, which the company proclaims will deliver a vast improvement in how people communicate. The new Skype puts chat "front and center," Microsoft said Thursday when it announced the release of the new interface to Android users.

"We want to help you deepen connections within your personal network," read yesterday's announcement by Microsoft's Skype team. "There's only one of you in this world, so now you can show off your personal style by customizing Skype with your favorite colors. When in a conversation, you should always make sure your voice is heard, or more specifically, your emoticon is seen."

The new Skype interface lets users share their feedback during a chat session or video call by tapping on a reaction icon. Skype also offers a new Highlights section, that lets users create a "highlight reel" of their day with photos and videos. Users can send a Highlight directly to select contacts or groups. Microsoft wants people to use Skype as their canvas to share experiences and communicate more expressively with friends, families and defined groups.

But Microsoft wants people to use Skype beyond simple chat, voice and video communications. The new Skype offers add-ins and bots to provide an "infinitely searchable" tool. In one example, a StubHub bot will help find seats for an event and find seating options and pricing. An Expedia bot lets users find travel options with other bots and add-ins forthcoming.

Since its release a day ago, Microsoft has shared some known issues on its support page. Among them are incoming calls default to the speakerphone. Those wanting to switch to earpiece mode should just tap on the speakerphone icon. Skype doesn't allow users to receive SMS messages within the app yet. The translator function isn't available and voicemail is currently restricted to those with Skype phone numbers. For Skype-to-Skype calls, Microsoft said it's not yet supported, but users can sign in to other Skype clients to receive them.

Perhaps the biggest known complaint is that those using the new Skype client with existing phone numbers aren't showing up as being online for other Skype users, an issue Microsoft said on the support page it is resolving. In the meantime, contacts who search for you using your full name in Skype will find you. Until Microsoft resolves the issue, the support page offers a workaround.

It will be interesting to see if the new interface broadens the use of Skype in a crowded field of communications and chat options. But, for sure, this isn't your father's Skype. If and how these features are brought over to Skype for Business also remains to be seen, but the team will undoubtedly monitor the new consumer interface to see what works.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 06/02/2017 at 10:50 AM


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