At Microsoft s Future Decoded event in Mumbai, CEO Satya Nadella launched the new Skype Lite app for low-end Android smartphones that come with limited processing power and low internal storage. The app is just 13MB in size and has been designed for the Indian market to work on slower 2G networks. Skype Lite also comes integrated with bots platform to pull up information such as news, horoscope and more, without having to use the web browser. The app is available to download for free from Google Play store. Also Read - Google announces six new Android features, which will roll out this yearAlso Read - Google Workspace now available for everyone, including free Google account owners
Telecom operators are doing their best to put India on 4G map, but the penetration is still the most in metros and small cities, whereas rural areas are still stuck on slower 2G networks. With Skype Lite, Microsoft is focusing to cater users who have limited data access and the ones who don t have access to high speed internet. It s a welcome move, especially considering the likes of Facebook, WhatsApp and Google with its Duo app have already optimized their apps for low bandwidth usage. Also Read - WhatsApp beta for iOS reveals changes, here's what users might get
Microsoft also mentioned that the app supports seven regional languages, includingGujarathi, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and Bengali. Later this year, Microsoft will update the app to integrate Aadhaar for user verification. The feature will allow users to request for the recipient s verification where they have to punch in their 12-digit Aadhaar number along with a one-time-password (OTP) for authentication. Microsoft says the feature will come handy for companies while conducting online job interviews and the company might eventually look at banking and payment applications within Skype. After giving Skype Lite a try, here are my first impressions. ALSO READ: Microsoft Skype Lite comes with Aadhaar-based authentication feature
Skype Lite Interface
Microsoft has redesigned the interface for the Skype Lite app. On the top left, you have the hamburger menu from where you can access settings, make changes to your profile and check your data usage. On the top right, you have the search icon from where you can search and add users.
On the homescreen, there are four tabs – messaging, dialler, phonebook and bots. With the Skype Lite, Microsoft has also integrated messaging and dialler within the app, meaning you can use it as your default SMS and calling app too. The messaging tab has three buttons on the tab tapping on which it can display either Skype chats, or SMS, or promotional messages SMSes or all.
Integrated with machine learning algorithm, the app can differentiate between texts from your contacts and filter out the promotional messages that you often receive. As I filtered out to only display promotional messages, I can only see the bank messages for transaction alerts, Box8 messages about daily offers, text from Vodafone reminding about bill due date and more. But then, there are some other texts too — people who just texted me their email ID or address. This is probably because their number is not added in my contact list. ALSO READ: Microsoft launches Project Sangam to make finding jobs easier
Next is the dialler tab which shows both phone and Skype contacts. In case of phone contacts, the app will let you make voice calls, but if the contact is on Skype, you ll also get an option to make a video call from this tab. Besides the dialler tab is the phonebook where all your phone and Skype contacts are listed. And the last tab is for bots, more on that later.
Skype Lite Call Quality and Data Consumption
As the app is designed for low-end phones and 2G network, the quality is kept to minimum by default. So whether you are on 2G or 4G network the quality will be low due to data compression. However, if you re connected to a Wi-Fi network, then the quality is better. I tested the app by making a few Skype calls to my colleagues, and it wasn t a flawless experience.
Even when both were connected to a high-speed Wi-Fi network, audio wasn t too clear and some humming sound in the background was audible. Also, I tried switching between the front and rear cameras while making video calls, and a lot of stuttering was noticeable. In fact, the camera feed just went blank at times or would just freeze, and this was despite being on a Wi-Fi network.
I was also tapping the data consumption during the calls I made. When on Wi-Fi, six minutes of total calls consumed about 67MB data (out of which 31MB was sent and 35MB was received). Next, I made video calls on using mobile data with default compression settings on. A one minute call consumed about 3.15MB of data, out of which 1.63MB was sent and 1.53MB was received. However, the video quality was poor and the feed randomly froze at times.
On switching to 2G network, a one minute call ended up consuming about 0.5MB of data, out of which 0.3MB was sent and 0.2MB was received. The video quality was completely pixelated, and not worth doing on 2G network. On turning off the video, the quality was marginally better, may be because it got more bandwidth to work with.
Lastly, I turned the default restrictions off and made a one minute video call on 4G network. This time around, it consumed about 9.2MB of data, out of which 4.4MB was sent, and 4.8MB was received.
Bots on Skype Lite
Now this is where Skype Lite gets a little interesting. Despite the low file size, Microsoft has managed to integrate its bots platform into the app. There are many bots as of now, but more are expected to be added going forward. Among the five available bots, one is AP Transport Authority that lets you go through and understand about government procedures to get a driving license, how to change registration address, how to apply for a new or duplicate registration, NOC letter, transfer of ownership and more in Andhra Pradesh.
Next is Horoscope bot where you can read and subscribe to daily horoscope, find more about love, finance, career and well being. Once subscribed for daily alerts, the bot will send updates everyday in the morning. This is similar to Google Assistant on Pixel smartphones and on the company s messaging app Allo.
Then there is a bot called Murphy, where you can ask questions like What if and it will respond with the results in the form of photos. I did ask a couple of questions such as What if Beethoven was a rockstar? I tried to test whether the bot was smart enough to distinguish between rock, the object, and Rock, the WWE superstar, and surprisingly it managed to get it right.
There is Your Face where you click your selfie and the bot will tell you about the traits, your age, facial expressions and more. And lastly, there is Meme Cat where you click a photo or upload it and type what you want written on it, thus generating a Meme from the photo that you snapped. At the event Microsoft also mentioned that will be adding MSN bot that will give you information related to weather, news updates, sports and more.
After using the Skype Lite app for a day, I could say that it s a good move but there are a lot of challenges ahead for Microsoft. Firstly, the company is late in the game, considering a lot of users are already comfortable using WhatsApp, which now also does video calls and has over 160 million users in India. Leave aside the bots, WhatsApp has all features such as voice and video calling, instant messaging, sharing emojis and GIFs.
Secondly, and most importantly. the app is not perfect and there are a lot of bugs that Microsoft needs to fix. Also, despite the fact that there are network optimizations to ensure smooth video calling experience, it didn t work as the company claims to be. If Microsoft has to compete in the video calling space with the likes of WhatsApp, Google Duo and Viber among others, it needs to work on making the experience as fluid as possible. It remains to be seen how Microsoft can further improve the app for optimal performance.
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