Microsoft is acquiring Skype for a reported $8.5 billion in cash. There has been a lot of speculation about what this might mean for Skype, the leading Internet telephone and chat service with around 663 million registered users. For consumers, there are two key aspects to this deal which will potentially take Skype to the next level: Microsoft's mobile expertise (in collaboration with its mobile partner Nokia) and its enormously popular gestural interface system Kinect.
Microsoft has a competitive mobile offering now in Windows Phone 7. In addition, as Todd Bishop from GeekWire noted, there are over 10 million "Microsoft cameras connected to television screens in homes around the world" - thanks to Xbox 360 Kinect sensors. This is the future of Skype, now that it's been acquired by Microsoft: Skype will be much more widely used on your mobile and in your home.
Skype has 145 million average monthly connected users, most of whom use the service through their PC. However, in case it's not obvious by now, the future of Internet services lies in mobile devices and real world objects (such as televisions).
Skype must make that jump to non-PC devices. And Microsoft is actually a great partner for that, despite deserved skepticism about its track record with pricey acquisitions and leaving aside the cynicism about Microsoft buying Skype as a defensive strategy against Google. It has Windows Phone 7, an impressive new smartphone platform. Plus it has Kinect, perhaps the key to the next version of Windows OS.
Skype has made some in-roads into the mobile market, with an iPhone and Android app - among other mobile services. It's also released Skype enabled TVs and TV compatible webcams. But those services for mobile and the home are not yet widely used. Microsoft offers a way for Skype to extend beyond the PC and into mainstream mobile devices and millions of family televisions.
This isn't merely audio, of course. Kinect had its origin in the Xbox 360 gaming device. Video is where the future of Skype lies, which again plays right into Microsoft's hands with Kinect. Take a look at this Microsoft promotional video (found via Gigaom) about video chat. It shows a demo of two people not just chatting by video, but doing social things like watching a movie together. Also Kinect can track you as you move around, which would be very handy for a video Skype call - you'd be able to walk around the room and the camera would follow you.
It remains to be seen how well Microsoft implements Skype into its mobile and Kinect offerings, but this is undeniably a huge opportunity in the consumer communications market for Microsoft. It can take Skype to the next level, but will it? Let us know in the comments whether you think Microsoft will pull it off.