Microsoft relaunches Skype with new features aimed to rival Facebook and Snapchat

Microsoft relaunches Skype with new features aimed to rival Facebook and Snapchat
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Skype is getting its biggest facelift in years, by bailing on its light-blue theme for a fully customizable interface, with features aimed at the way young people prefer to communicate, from emojis to a Snapchat-like recap of the day (story). 

In addition to the cosmetic changes being made by Microsoft, the update completely revamps Skype’s back of house infrastructure. Years in the making, this interface is an effort to give the service the sustainability it needs to compete in the hustle and bustle of communications software.

Amritansh Raghav, the corporate VP at Skype, calls the update that started rolling out Thursday, the most drastic changes to have been rung at Skype since the addition of video calling 11 years ago.

The service’s former spine; peer-to-peer connections that linked caller to target through a direct line, is being replaced in the update by Microsoft’s data centres. Some of the users’ complaints about the service, including phantom notifications or calls that were missed entirely, should disappear.

“We needed to modernise the Skype infrastructure,” said Raghav. “The good news is we’re finally done.”

Skype, which Microsoft acquired for $8.5 billion in 2011, was the pioneer in voice and video calls made over the internet, instead of wired telephone connections or cellular networks. Today, internet communications tools, such as these are commonplace, but this, of course, hasn’t always been the case.

Facebook Messenger and Facebook-owned WhatsApp each boast more than a billion users a piece. China-focused QQ and WeChat aren’t far behind. Elsewhere, Google and Apple are both investing in communications tools tied to their expansive mobile platforms. A year ago Microsoft said Skype had 300 million “monthly connected users,” little changed from 2013.

Since then, Skype development offices in London and Stockholm were shuttered, cuts that brought layoffs of more than 320 people, or so it was reported. Microsoft refused to comment on the scale of the redundancies and said they were trying to reduce Skype’s “geographical footprint” and gather software-engineering teams closer together.

Skype’s remaining development offices are in Estonia, the Czech Republic, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters.

In addition to the new Snapchat-esque “Highlights” feature, that enables the user to compile recent photos and videos into a shareable reel, the new update places greater emphasis on tools to find friends and enables the user to quickly fire off emojis or reactions in response to chats and videos.

Automated chat bots e.g. Siri, Cortana, a push by Microsoft as it aims to build more intelligent software, have been given a prominent home in the new Skype. Through a text window, users can call upon Expedia to search for flight prices, or ask StubHub about concert tickets. But that functionality remains limited, for now.

Raghav has claimed the aim was to position Skype not as a social network, but as a tool to communicate with your close contacts in a more personable way. “We like the fact that Skype has been known not just as a social network, but the most personal of connections.”

The update will go out in fits and starts, first targeting mobile devices running Android and, afterwards, iOS. The software is expected to make its way to desktop this summer.