Microsoft released a new update for the iOS version of Skype (6.20) to the Apple App Store this week that enables iPhone and iPad users to find and organize bots similar to the way they already manage their flesh-and-blood contacts.
Skype bots made their official debut at this spring's Build developer conference in San Francisco. Although the first handful of bots for the platform are limited in their usefulness, like helping users search the Web using Bing and play text games, Microsoft envisions that one day, with the help of other technologies like the company's virtual assistant Cortana, Skype bots will help users book trips, manage their calendars and shop online, among a wide variety of other tasks.
This week, Microsoft is taking an early step in helping iOS users prepare for the potential onslaught of Skype bots. "You'll notice that in this release we've added a bot icon to the 'Recents' header, which makes discovering bots really simple," blogged the Microsoft Skype team.
"Just tap the icon to open the list of Skype Bots you can start chatting to. We've also made it possible to favorite a bot, so you can always find it at the top of your Skype contact list," continued the company's staffers. Apart from the new bot-management capabilities, version 6.20 of the app also includes more responsive notifications and improved voice messaging, according to Microsoft.
Last month, the software giant announced that it had acquired Wand Labs, a messaging app maker that specializes in integrating third-party services like Spotify and Yelp into chat-based experiences, for an undisclosed amount. In a June 16 announcement, David Ku, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Information Platform group, said the startup's "technology and talent will strengthen our position in the emerging era of conversational intelligence, where we bring together the power of human language with advanced machine intelligence—connecting people to knowledge, information, services and other people in more relevant and natural ways."
Microsoft isn't the only tech company that's banking on bots.
During its F8 developer conference in April, Facebook announced chatbot support for its Messenger platform. The social media giant has already gathered support from HP, Bank of America and 1-800-Flowers.
Meanwhile, as Microsoft prepares for Skype's bot-enabled future, the company is leaving the communication software's peer-to-peer architecture in the past.
The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant has been focused on transitioning the Skype platform to its Azure cloud computing platform. "By moving to the cloud we have been able to significantly improve existing features like file sharing and video messaging, and launch new features like mobile group video calling, Skype Translator and Skype Bots to name just a few," wrote Gurdeep Pall, corporate vice president at Microsoft Skype and Skype for Business, in a July 20 blog post.
Describing the transition as "a huge technical endeavor," Pall said he expected the move to be completed in the months ahead. He also hinted that Microsoft will start dropping support for older, less popular devices and operating systems, focusing instead on the Windows 10 and mobile versions of the app along with versions for Linux, Mac and older Windows operating systems inspired by the Web-based of the software.