The Road to Skype for Xbox One
Skype and Xbox came together to create a marriage of two divisions to bring communications to the living room. In July 2012, less than a year after Skype was acquired by Microsoft, the Skype team embarked on developing Skype for Xbox One.
There were three core things we knew we needed to get right: performance, simplicity and Kinect integration. All the while, knowing full well, Skype needed to run seamlessly and efficiently in the background and in tandem to all other apps and services.
We reached our first huge milestone less than a year ago – our first transatlantic audio call took place in January 2013. The work continued, and our real moment of celebration came with our first video call in March 2013. Of course, there was more work to be done.
We knew we needed to move away from Skype’s own existing code base and instead move toward building Skype into the hardware of Xbox to create a deeply integrated, embedded app. One of the critical keys to success was performance. We wanted consumers to take and make calls easily, and while doing other things. We were able to use learnings from recent Skype developments on mobile like working in the background of a device, and the results meant a 20 fold improvement.
Skype has always been more than 1:1 video calls, and we wanted to create a total communications experience with Skype for Xbox One. Voice recognition is a key differentiator in the living room. The technology was a joint effort between Microsoft Research, Information Platform & Experience, Xbox and Skype. You use your voice to call your favorites. Just say: “Xbox, call Mom”. Or “Xbox, answer” when someone is calling. You can call land lines and mobile phones with low cost Skype credit. All of these commands are supported with local language recognition intelligence where available.1
There are a number of global commands you can use from anywhere on your Xbox. Just say “Xbox” and any number of commands, including, “Call <person’s name>,” “Go to Skype,” “Hang up,” “Answer,” and “Ignore” among others. It’s also possible to navigate through the Skype app just by using your voice.
Finally, the new Kinect camera in Xbox One is incredibly powerful and Skype takes full advantage of the wide view lens and auto zoom functionality. We initially talked about wanting to implement auto zoom with Skype calls back in May 2013.
Thanks to the incredible work and brainpower of the IEB incubation team, they created a fantastic prototype that used the new Kinect APIs. We were able to use this prototype and rewrite it to work with the Skype video pipeline. This is a great example of collaboration across Microsoft.
Today, the team proudly describes Skype for Xbox One as an intuitive, immersive and complementary experience allowing consumers to relax – interwoven with what you’re already doing in the living room.
We’d love to hear how you are using Skype for Xbox One and what else you would love to see. This is just the beginning, and we’ll continue to enhance and add to Skype for Xbox One.
1 Kinect voice functionality will not be available in all markets on the product release date.