Mumbai: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Wednesday announced several new products designed for India, and, to a significant degree, also made in India – a forceful move that suggests the company is trying to go way beyond its traditional Windows and Office users and build a substantially broader audience in the country.
Among the new offerings are a lighter version of its Skype video and voice calling app to cater to the mass of Indians who own mid-range and low-end smartphones, and a skilling-cum-job search/hiring platform for low-skilled people in India. The new products also work with Aadhaar authentication, enabling a simple and extensive reach, Nadella said.
The new Skype, called Skype Lite and built with the help of Microsoft’s development centre in Hyderabad, is at least partly an attempt to challenge the popular WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger apps. Not only does it occupy just over a third of the storage space of the original Skype, it also consumes far less data and has features that are not even available yet on the richer version.
Skype Lite needs just 13 MB of storage space, compared to 36 MB of the regular version. It understands when it is using the cellular network and when wi-fi, and consumes less data when it is on the former. It compresses photos. Unlike in WhatsApp, when you reshare a photo that you receive, no download or upload of the photo happens – the sharing happens within the cloud service. That saves a lot of data. You can see how much data the Skype app has used, both on the cellular network and on wi-fi, in case you want to control usage.
The app also integrates mobile calling and SMS, so you can see your Skype calls, messages and contacts together with your mobile calls, SMSes and contacts, and you can do everything from the one app. The messaging section even has a `promotions’ section that intelligently segregates promotional messages so that these don’t clutter up your important messages.
Microsoft is also using its machine learning, natural language processing and image recognition capabilities to introduce a host of bots within Skype. It’s still work in progress for India. But Eugene Ho, director of products, Skype, expects numerous bots will be built that could do things like help you buy train or air tickets, get weather data or cricket scores. In India, the Andhra Pradesh Transport Authority has built a bot for providing transport information.
Skype Lite will be available in seven Indian languages. Ho said there are millions of Skype users in India. He said that in most markets people use multiple communication apps. “Lots of people will continue to use WhatsApp, and also Facebook Messenger and Snapchat,” he said.
He said monetization is not the focus now for Skype, but to develop experiences, increase engagement. Skype had an early mover advantage and was the de facto solution for Indians to do international video calling, especially for parents to communicate with children overseas. But today, others like WhatsApp and Google Hangouts have caught on, especially with communication moving to mobile. Ho says millions of Indians still use Skype. “Students do homework together on Skype, people learn the guitar or to cook by interacting with experts on Skype,” he said.
Skype was built 14 years ago for the PC, for high-speed internet connections. Now it is used more on the mobile. Skype Lite is an effort to cater to the vastly broader audience of low end smartphones.
Microsoft has also developed a skilling-cum-job-search/hiring platform for low-skilled people in India. Called Sangam, the platform combines Microsoft’s cloud, video and other technologies with LinkedIn’s assets.
Sangam is an open platform that will allow any training content provider to offer their courses over the cloud. A training aspirant can go through all the options available and choose the one she wants.
When the candidate joins, the system will create a LinkedIn-like profile of her, and this profile will be updated appropriately as the candidate enhances her skills.
At the other end, companies wanting to hire, say, hospitality, retail or construction staff, can upload their requirements. Sangam will match these requirements with those of the trained personnel and offer options to both sides.
Anil Bhansali, MD (R&D), Microsoft India, says while LinkedIn is for white-collar professionals, Sangam is targetted at the mass of India’s low-skilled population. Currently, a lot of such skill upgradation happens through the National Skill Development Corporation’s partners, who establish training centres and have to expend resources to get candidates.
Sangam will allow them to reach out to candidates in remote locations, and it will even allow for remote learning through Skype, which is also integrated into the platform. Candidates can use their Aadhaar authentication to sign into the system.