Digital

New Real-Time Translation Product for Skype Unveiled by Microsoft CEO

May 28, 2014 7:00 am

Skift Take

The world is moving closer to a vision of no language barriers — enabled by technology — and it will do wonders for increasing seamless travel around the globe.

— Rafat Ali

Report: Social Media Customer Service in the Travel Industry

 / Courtesy Code Conference

Microsoft's demo of the Skype real-time translation capabilities. / Courtesy Code Conference


Microsoft Corp.’s Satya Nadella unveiled a new Skype product that translates Web-conference conversations as participants speak, part of the chief executive officer’s push into mobile and Internet-based offerings.

Set for a test release later this year, the Skype translator was demonstrated in a conversation between Gurdeep Singh Pall, who oversees Skype, and a German speaker during Nadella’s keynote today at Re/code’s Code conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. The product provides both a spoken and text translation and will initially be available as a stand-alone offering before being combined into the Skype application.

The demonstration took place as part of Nadella’s first public interview since taking the CEO job in February. Nadella also used his speech to highlight the focus of the Redmond, Washington-based company on products that attract wide usage, as well as the areas of Internet-based cloud computing, mobile and business software.

“Skype is a very global product — it’s all about connecting people that are separated by distance,” Pall said in an interview. “One of the biggest barriers that still remains is really the language barrier.”

Microsoft isn’t sure how many languages will be included initially, Pall said. The company will release new languages as they meet the bar for translation quality.

Speech Recognition

The software relies on work by Microsoft’s research arm, as well as the Bing search unit, which has its own translation product for Web pages and Internet content, he said. The Skype service needs to use speech recognition to understand the speaker, machine learning for the translation, and text-to- speech technology to send the translation to the listener.

Since succeeding Steve Ballmer, Nadella has sought to focus the world’s largest software maker on mobile and Internet-based cloud products. He has signaled a desire to shift attention to producing software for rival operating systems like Apple Inc.’s iOS and Google Inc.’s Android and has shuffled management in areas like marketing, business development and Xbox.

A company event earlier this month to release a new Surface tablet was noteworthy for what the CEO chose not to unveil. While Microsoft showed a larger model of its Surface Pro, a planned smaller tablet failed to meet with the approval of Nadella and his executives and was pulled from the event, people familiar with the matter said last week.

At the session in New York, Nadella didn’t discuss the missing device and noted that Microsoft won’t seek to develop hardware to compete with its partners and will instead focus on areas where it can develop something unique. His comments suggest a more selective approach to building devices rather than going for the largest number of offerings.

In Nadella’s first quarter as CEO, Microsoft posted better- than-projected profit as cloud initiatives and cost controls begun under Ballmer boosted results.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dina Bass in Seattle at dbass2@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Pui-Wing Tam at ptam13@bloomberg.net.

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