Microsoft woos developers with Skype for Business App SDK Preview

Skype for Business previews

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) is enabling developers to integrate instant messaging, audio and video experiences into their custom iOS and Android applications, a way to add business-to-consumer communications into their mobile apps.

The technology giant this month released the Skype for Business App SDK Preview, which a Microsoft spokesperson says can enhance "nearly any communication scenario" due to its "power and extensibility."

The initial focus of its SDK Preview is to drive "remote advisor" solutions that enable developers of consumer iOS and Android apps "to embed communications from external guests to users within a Skype for Business organization."

The SDK Preview leverages the "guest meeting join" capability that is available both for Skype for Business Online and Skype for Business Server, Microsoft noted, and enables developers to embed business-to-consumer (B2C) communications into their mobile apps. 

Capitalizing on rising demand for business VoIP

A recent survey of 540 enterprise IT professionals conducted by enterprise communications research firm No Jitter revealed 52 percent of respondents have adopted Skype for Business. Also, the survey showed the majority of respondents currently use Skype for Business for its instant messaging and presence capabilities. 

Skype for Business remains exceedingly popular, and the SDK Preview could make it quick and simple for developers to incorporate Skype for Business' B2C communications capabilities into their offerings. 

Meanwhile, the SDK Preview gives developers an effective way to capitalize on the rising demand for Skype for Business and may lead many developers to build on the Office platform as well. 

In fact, the Office platform could offer "unprecedented reach, data and intelligence for developers to create intelligent solutions that enable smarter ways to work -- now and in the future," according to a Microsoft spokesperson. 

"The opportunity to build on the Office platform has never been greater," the spokesperson said. "With new extensions and new connections ... developers are empowered to build smarter apps that can transform the landscape of work."

A medical use case for the SDK Preview

The SDK Preview remains relatively new, but healthcare delivery services and software provider MDLIVE already showcased its SDK-based telehealth platform at Build 2016. 

With the SDK Preview, MDLIVE now can offer "a secure and HIPAA-compliant system for patients and providers to communicate, share and review patient medical records, lab results and provide assessments," Microsoft said. 

In addition, MDLIVE CEO Randy Parker said Skype for Business provides his company with a scalable architecture it can use to accommodate high volumes of video consultations daily and enables his company to deliver "a significantly improved user experience for both patients and physicians."

Microsoft said developers can use the Skype for Business Server and Skype for Business Online infrastructure to reach new customers as well. 

As such, the SDK Preview may deliver significant benefits for developers, particularly for those who want to learn about their target audiences consistently. 

Greater customer context can boost dev success

Adam Fingerman, co-founder of San Francisco-based mobile app development company ArcTouch, told FierceDeveloper that he believes the SDK Preview may serve as Microsoft's initial attempt to compete with Twilio.

Adam Fingerman, ArcTouch

Fingerman

With Twilio, developers can make and receive phone calls and send and receive text messages using the web service's application programming interfaces (APIs).

Comparatively, the SDK Preview allows businesses and their consumers to "chat or have audio or video calls -- without the consumer having to provide their specific phone number or email address directly to the person they are speaking with," Fingerman said.

"The more interesting benefit is that [the SDK Preview] gives developers the opportunity to provide more customer context to the business users," he pointed out. "By embedding [the SDK Preview] into an app, the context of where I am in the app and my situation ... could be passed directly to the agent via a data channel."

Fingerman said he anticipates additional SDK Preview features could become available that empower developers to learn more about app users quickly and easily. 

"Going forward, I'd expect Microsoft to add more robust context features ... and add hooks to its bot framework so that it can improve human responses on the business side, but also offer automated AI-based responses," he noted. 

What does the future hold for the SDK Preview?

Skype for Business org map

Skype for Business roadmap (Source: Microsoft)

A Microsoft spokesperson said the company will consider user feedback based on the SDK Preview and act upon it before it makes the SDK generally available. 

For the time being, the SDK Preview could help developers incorporate additional communications capabilities into their apps and bolster the user experience. 

"Whether you are looking to add voice, video or chat functionality into a new or existing application, the Skype for Business App SDK Preview makes it easy," James Skay, senior product marketing manager for the Skype for Business team, wrote in a blog post. "The availability of these features is an important step in our Skype Developer Platform roadmap to combine the power of cloud voice, meetings and messaging with new cloud APIs and SDKs that work across a range of web and device platforms to drive new scenarios and help developers and partners re-imagine how they engage and win customers."

Furthermore, the Skype Developer Platform remains available and provides developers with opportunities "to customize and extend the capabilities with the power of Skype and Skype for Business." It also features developer resources and documentation designed to help developers implement Skype capabilities into their offerings. 

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