Microsoft dropkicks Cortana with Skype functionality on Alexa
Plus: Cloud file-sharing on desktop and mobile clients
Microsoft announced this week that Skype calling had arrived on Amazon's Echo, but the rollout took a little while, finally arriving at Vulture Central yesterday, so we took it for a spin to see how it works.
The short answer is: pretty well. While there are now a bewildering array of methods to irritate friends and family with phone calls, the implementation on Amazon's Echo is good.
It's simple to enable, requiring the user to head into the settings portion of the Alexa app or website, select Communications and then hand over the keys to the kingdom enter their Skype credentials.
It took a little while for the integration option to show up. As one would expect, nothing actually appeared on the day of the announcement. By day two the option was there, but simply dropped us into a blank screen. On the third day things seemed to have rolled out a bit further (at least as far as us). It should have arrived in all supported markets by now.
While we don't have a video Echo device to hand, we did try the feature out on first and second-generation Echo spy cylinders and also on a diminutive second-generation Echo Dot. And we can confirm that it is no more annoying than any other hands-free dialler and a good deal better integrated than many of Amazon’s third-party skills (yes, Cortana, I'm looking at you).
The usage is a simple case of telling the creepy thing "Alexa, call John Smith on Skype", the usual blue ring turns green, and the Skype ringtone can be heard. The same goes for incoming calls – "Alexa, pick up" or similar will answer the call. None of the tortured syntax usually found in third party integrations on Amazon's platform.
What some may find annoying is Echo's habit of checking it understood the name correctly, but in lieu of a screen to show the user who the thing is actually calling (as far as the audio devices are concerned) it's an acceptable trade-off.
While we didn't have an Echo Show or Spot to test with, video calling on Skype is equally seamless, according to Microsoft. The company will also throw in 200 minutes of free calls (spread over two months) if you give the integration a whirl.
On the downside, you will want to drop any friends called "Alexa", or change the wake word, since the thing is listening for its trigger during your conversation. What the functionality means for Microsoft's much-vaunted end-to-end encryption of Skype calls is unclear – we've contacted the software giant to find out. Although, to be fair, if you are an Amazon Echo user, privacy is unlikely to be too high on your list of gadget priorities.
OneDrive file-sharing in Skype
Something that has got privacy-obsessed hearts all a-flutter is the arrival of cloud file-sharing on the Skype desktop and mobile clients. Currently only for those hardy souls on Skype's Insider programme, the functionality allows users to view the contents of their OneDrive storage within the Skype client, select a file and include a link to it in a chat.
No more pesky downloading and attaching files. The recipient of the link can do that themselves.
It is all most convenient, although some, such as Rasmus Holst of secure messaging outfit Wire, have questioned what this means for privacy, telling El Reg: "Data on Microsoft's OneDrive is clearly not only stored on one drive, which means that messages sent through Microsoft's Skype for Business, which is currently promoting 'seamless sharing of OneDrive files', are perhaps not private."
It seems a bit of a leap, and other than being able to view the content of the OneDrive folder, we're not sure how different the new seamless sharing is to simply including a link to a OneDrive file other than not having to drop into the OneDrive web client.
We have, of course, contacted Microsoft to find out. ®