Skype for iOS Updated, Pre-release Program Announced

Skype has been updated for iOS on January 14, and per a blog post on Skype Blogs, they have now made it possible to quickly search for contacts and start conversations quicker via an update to the chat picker.

According to the post, the following two enhancements are part of the latest update:

In Skype 5.9 for iPhone, when you start typing a phone number in the dial pad, Skype will suggest contacts with matching phone numbers, making it faster to find who you want to talk to.

We’ve also updated the new chat picker to make starting conversations easier. Once you’ve chosen who you want to talk to, tap the phone or video icon at the top to start your call. (To open the chat picker, tap on the message icon on the bottom navigation bar when in the recents, favorites or people view.)

In other news from Skype, they announced a pre-release program for Skype enthusiasts. This program, for which you have to sign up here, gives access to early release of the software. This of course in based on the assumption that the enthusiasts will provide feedback so Skype developers can tweak the functionality before releasing to a wider audience.

You can help us shape your skype experience by:
* Trying out some new or upgraded features (don’t worry we’ll let you know what’s new) and tell us about your experience after doing so
* Giving us feedback and suggestions on what you would like to see in the app in the future
* Letting us know of any issues that you run into while using this previewed version

Per the blog post, there program has a limited number of spots, so if you are a Skype enthusiast, hurry up and enroll.

Skype Translator: Universal Translator Begins Preview (English-Spanish For Now)

Skype Translator UI

Skype Translator, the near real-time translation feature in Skype, which was announced in May and for which the preview sign up started in November of 2014, is now available. Those who signed up for the preview back in November, and those who are on Windows 8.1 (or Windows 10 Technical Preview), can now voice and video chat in English and Spanish in close to real time.

In addition to the voice translation between English and Spanish, more than 40 languages are available for IM conversations. A sample video provided by Skype:

Per Microsoft, this is a project that has been over ten years in the making:

Skype Translator is a great example of the benefit of Microsoft’s investment in research. We’ve invested in speech recognition, automatic translation and machine learning technologies for more than a decade, and now they’re emerging as important components in this more personal computing era. Skype Translator is the most recent and visible example.

On the Skype Garage blog, they explain how the Skype Translator technology works, simplistically:

It is interesting that the blog states how Microsoft has learnt colloquial language usage by being the translation service for social media sites like Facebook. It is clear that whatever deal Microsoft made with Facebook and Twitter to supply the translation services on those sites, was not just to be the translation service, but also to learn from the data and improve other products in their portfolio and fine tune products like Skype Translator.

Another nuance mentioned in the blog post is that the translation appears almost as a third person because based on research, they know customers “who are used to speaking through a human interpreter are quickly at ease with the situation”.

Although there will be kinks in the service, this is a bold new product that can truly help break barriers in communication around the world. Also, given that the service relies on machine learning which in turn gets better as there appears more data to work with, Microsoft and Skype urges everyone to try the service and provide feedback.

Sign up now at this page.

Microsoft Introduces Work & Play Bundle: Office 365, Xbox Music Pass, Xbox LIVE Gold, Skype Unlimited World for $199

Microsoft has introduced a unique blend of “dual use” products in a single subscription, called Work & Play Bundle. This is a subscription to four of its popular subscriptions services, combined into a single bundle.

The products included are:

  • Office 365 Home (which includes 1TB of OneDrive space today, which is soon going to become unlimited storage, for 5 users)
  • Skype Unlimited World and Skype WiFi
  • Xbox LIVE Gold
  • Xbox Music Pass

As you can see, this is not a “consumer” bundle, nor is it a “business” bundle. In keeping with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s mantra, this is a product made for someone who wants to access productivity tools like Office and OneDrive as well as fun stuff like Xbox gaming and listening to unlimited music on demand. Of course, Skype calling applies naturally to both work and play scenarios.

Of course, being a bundle, the selling point is that the combined price of $199/year is better than buying all those subscriptions individually. Also, if you already subscribe to one or more of these products, adding this bundle will simply extend the subscription to those products by a year. Finally, in terms of actual delivery, each product is delivered as a $50 redemption code so potentially, you could give the stuff you don’t care about to friends and others.

This bundle shows that Microsoft is pushing even harder in the direction of making all their services into a recurring revenue model business. There have long been wishes for Xbox LIVE Gold to include the Xbox Music Pass and now we can see that Microsoft is making it a little bit easier to digest by combining these popular services together.

One thing to note, as is stated in the footnote on the site, the Xbox Music Pass is only for streaming on Xbox and the web. I wonder why they made that restriction, implying it won’t be available on mobile devices or Windows modern Music app.

At $199 per year, it is not a slam dunk choice for consumers to jump to, but there is a lot of value in the bundle if you use even three of the four services included here. Are you interested in this bundle? Would you consider buying it?

Skype Translator Early Preview Now Open for Applicants

Skype Translator, the almost magical real-time translation technology built into Skype that was demonstrated by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Skype Corporate Vice President Gurdeep Singh Pall in May, is finally available. More details about Skype Translator are available here.

In what the Skype Blog calls an “early preview”, this technology will let users of Windows 8.1 computers and tablets (initially) in a limited number of languages (obviously). Since it is an early preview, the program is not completely open for everyone to sign up. Register here to sign up for the preview if you have a PC or a tablet running Windows 8.1.

Here’s how Skype describes the product:

Speak another language without learning another language. Simply set up a Skype video or voice call with someone who speaks another language to you and start talking.

* Your conversation is translated into their language in real time.

* And what they say is translated back in your language.

* An on-screen transcript of your call is displayed.

* Instant message chats in 45 languages can be translated.

 

So, as simple as a normal Skype call. No special software or plugins needed. Of course, if the language you care about is not available today, you can make a note in the registration so that they can prioritize the next languages per the interest expressed during the registration process.

Also, Skype Translator is free right now, but we don’t know the pricing once this product becomes final.

Here’s a demo of the Skype Translator from Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference:

Skype For Android Update Brings Tablet Optimized Layout; Plume Update Brings Lockscreen Widgets

Last night, the official Skype application for Android was updated to v3.0 that brings about a new layout optimized for Android tablets. The application now features a new layout optimized for 7″ and 10″ Android tablets. Sadly, the updated version of the app will only work in landscape mode on all tablets.

The new update also includes some other changes include an improved audio quality thanks to the use of Skype’s wideband audio codec – SILK. Lastly, the update also adds the ability to sign in to Skype via Microsoft account. The update is already live in the Play Store and can be downloaded from here.

Plume, one of the most popular Twitter clients for Android, also got a bug-squashing update today. Apart from fixing a bunch of bugs and issues, the update brings lock screen widgets for all Android 4.2 users.

 

Below is the full change-log of the update -:

– add a lockscreen widget on Android 4.2
– fix the widget context on Android 4.2
– fix the display of the DM recipient
– fix Facebook timeline not updating in some case
– fix unread list item appearing multiple times
– improve the picture cache coherence
– make Halloween notification sound available all the time

The latest version of Plume can be downloaded from here.

 

Skype Password Reset Bug Allows Anyone to Hack a Skype Account

Hackers have discovered a new vulnerability in Skype that could allow anyone to practically reset any Skype account if the email associated is known.

The vulnerability which first surfaced on Russian hacker forums was first reported by The Next Web. The Next Web has verified the vulnerability and was able to successfully reproduce the hack twice. The hack basically includes creating a secondary account using the target’s email id associated with Skype. Using this secondary account, one can access the original Skype account and change the password of the target.

Microsoft has since acknowledged the issue and at the moment, they have taken down the Password reset page from Skype’s website.

We have had reports of a new security vulnerability issue. As a precautionary step we have temporarily disabled password reset as we continue to investigate the issue further. We apologize for the inconvenience but user experience and safety is our first priority.

This issue is only applicable to Skype accounts while Microsoft accounts which can also be used to login to Skype are safe from this vulnerability.

Skype For Mac And Windows Updated To Version 6.0

Today Skype has released major updates for both their Mac and Windows applications. According to CultofMachis update brings the Skype app to version 6.0 and adds some pretty neat functionality and fixes. With this update, Skype has added Facebook and Microsoft Messenger integration, Retina Display compatibility as well as a plethora of other features. If you’d like to view the full list of changes, we’ve embedded it below:

  • Microsoft and Facebook Account Integration
  • Sign up and sign-in is easier than ever. You can now sign into Skype using your Microsoft or Facebook account – there’s no need to create a new Skype account. This makes it even easier to connect with friends on Skype without having to set up another account.
  • IM friends on Messenger
  • Now you can instant message your Windows Live Messenger, Hotmail and Outlook.com contacts via Skype all in one place. If you use a Microsoft account today, merging your accounts is easy – just sign in to Skype with your Microsoft account.
  • Calling with Messenger friends is coming soon
  • We’re working on polishing a feature which will enable audio and video calls to Windows Live Messenger customers using Skype desktop clients. The feature will be available in coming weeks.
  • Open Chats in Multiple Windows
  • We hear your feedback! With this release we’ve added support to open chats in multiple windows.
  • Retina Display Support
  • We also added another feature you’ve asked for – support Retina display. Now you can take full advantage of improved usability and of higher resolution screens.

You can update your Skype app by clicking the “Check for Updates” button which is located under “Skype” in your status bar. If you’d prefer to do a clean install of Skype, head on over to the Skype download page.

Looking to Delete Your Skype Account? Well Hard Luck

As a very active internet user I end up creating accounts on several websites and usually forget about them. However, there are some accounts which I use on a frequent basis. In the past, there have been several times when I have completely shut down my account on a website and deleted all my account data from it.

Skype Logo

Right now I can easily delete my account, account, Google account or Yahoo account as they provide users with simple options to do the same. But what about Skype?

Well, if you are looking to delete your Skype account, you are in for some surprise (or maybe I am late to the party thanks to Reddit). Skype does not explicitly allow you to delete your account, and I am not kidding. Skype has a support page which states so (emphasis mine):

Can I delete my Skype account?

It’s not possible to delete a Skype account or change a Skype Name after it has been created. However, you can remove all the personal information contained in your profile. This will ensure that other people cannot search for you in Skype by using personal information such as your full name, email or phone number (although they will still be able to search for your Skype Name).

So this technically means that unless you personally go in and remove all the personally identifying information from your Skype profile it won’t be destroyed.

While every service have a right to store user data, they also have an obligation to provide their users with an option to delete their accounts when they want. Why Skype does not allow users to delete their accounts is beyond me. After all, that information is the users and they should have rights to delete it even if it is linked to billing or otherwise.

So how do you delete a Skype account then? Well this might not work 100%, but there have been some instances where users have been able to delete their accounts by directly contacting Skype. You can also visit the same support page to find information to delete your personal information from Skype.

This is definitely annoying, hopefully Microsoft will drill some sense into them. Were you aware about Skype not allowing you to delete your account? Do you think that Skype should allow users to delete their accounts?

Facebook Testing “Call” Button on Timeline; Could Help Popularize Its Video Chat

A year ago, Facebook announced the video chatting feature powered by Microsoft-acquired Skype, which allowed Skype users to video chat with Facebook users within Skype itself. All that Skype users had to do is click on the Facebook icon on the left side of the screen, and allow Skype to access their Facebook information via the Facebook Connect button.

However, the feature didn’t really attract many users, and sources say that in order to increase video chat usage and popularize the little known feature, Facebook is testing it further by adding a “Call” button below the user’s cover photo on the profile page, right next to the “Message” button.  It is said that the motive behind adding this new button is to remind Facebook users that there is a feature called as video chat and users need to make use of it.

Fellow Techie Buzz author Parth Dhebar, notified us about the new “Call” button, however, Tech Crunch was the first to report the feature publicly in a blog post. Facebook Testing "Call" Button

Ever since Google+ Hangouts made its debut, the video chatting feature for Google+ has attracted several users. Perhaps Facebook has now realized that the video chatting feature needs to be emphasized more and needs to get more users use the feature. This could also be a threat to Facebook, since it could lose several users to Google Plus.

Currently, users can see the video chat button only in chat windows, and that is the only way to start a video chat with someone. Adding a “Call” button on user’s profile page seems apt, however, it still goes unnoticeable. Perhaps, Facebook should consider replacing its annoying Ticker widget on the right, and add buttons such as “Call” to highlight it and several other features that Facebook offers.

Unlike Google+ Hangouts, Facebook’s video chat does not support group video chat yet. Facebook had promised group video chat after the integration with Skype. This is yet another reason Facebook needs to take into consideration if they really want to increase the popularity of its video chat feature. Other features including, Facebook-to-Skype calling, and paid Facebook to standard phone number audio calling are yet to debut.

Skype 4.0 Arrives on Linux, Better Late Than Never

A few days ago, Skype decided to monetize its software by displaying ads in between conversations. Most people found this unsavory, but Skype tried wrapping the advertisement scheme as display of “relevant content”, and made a bold claim that it would spark conversations. It goes without saying that Skype invited everyone’s wrath with this move.

Earning back some karma, Skype did something appreciable recently. The Skype software on Linux graduated to version 4.0 which is good news for Skype users who are in the habit of waiting for Skype updates now. The 4.0 release is codenamed “Four Rooms for Improvement” and brings in lots of new features, thus making for a better Skype experience on Linux.

The post announcing the release on the Skype official blog says,

With this release, we have finally filled the gap with our other desktop clients and we are now making many of the latest Skype features, as well as a lot of UI improvements, available to our penguin lovers.

The blog post claims improvements in UX, as well as the underlying communication technology. Minor changes include fixes for crash issues, newer emoticons and new language packs. There is also a fair warning that says that the first load of the latest Skype will synchronize the chat history, and things might be a bit slow initially.

The latest version of Skype offers packages for all popular flavors of Linux, but the download page lists older versions of all distros. This was a huge turn-off for some people.

skype-binary

It is sad to see that Windows users can enjoy Skype 5.10 while Linux users have to make do with Skype 4.0. This second-class treatment of Skype on Linux has been criticized extensively in this blog post. Linux might have its own ninja-skills and hacker-friendly tools, but when it comes to attracting third-party developers, it clearly has not been able to catch up with Windows.