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With Microsoft in the news recently (18,000 in layoffs!), we thought we’d check in with Skype 5.0, which launched last month for iPhone and will soon debut on Android. Skype used to be the name in messaging, but in today’s mobile world the venerable brand has become an afterthought to Whatsapp, LINE and even Google Hangouts. So how does Skype 5.0 fare?

The Skype team apparently rebuilt the app from scratch with a focus on speed. I’m glad to report the new version doesn’t feel slower than its competition. It looks good too. Microsoft wisely decided to stick to one common design (Windows Phone) and apply it everywhere. One nice upgrade is that if you use Skype for both desktop and iPhone, if a message is read on one it’s automatically marked as read on the other.

However, Skype remains as unusable as ever. Why? Contacts still works like it’s from the 90s. To message a new contact, I have to first search, hope the right person shows up and then manually add her. What makes it worse is that I haven’t used Skype in a long time, so most of the contacts in the “people” section are outdated.

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In yesterday’s post, we casually mentioned Tinder as an example of how a successful app is both great product and great marketing. Nothing just sells itself. There are lots of wonderful products that die a quiet death because nobody knew about them.

“Marketing” might be a misnomer, because technically product is part of marketing. What we mean is a go-to-market strategy: price, single-minded proposition, awareness building and distribution strategy.  Not only do you need product-market fit, you need an effective way for product and market to find each other.

Take Snapchat as an example.  Snapchat, despite being the same essential product from inception, puttered along at first without any traction. In fact, Murphy, one of the co-founders, got a full-time job elsewhere while the other, Spiegel, returned to finish his final year at Stanford.  The two had basically given up on Snapchat. Then they got their lucky break: Spiegel’s mom introduced the app to her popular niece who went to a school where Facebook was banned; soon, all the students there used Snapchat.  Murphy and Spiegel saw the numbers and realized they had a hit, and that the way of achieving it was through teens and schools. The rest is history.

Note: the big break wasn’t a product change, it was simply marketing.

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I’ve been using Facebook’s new app, Slingshot, intensely since it launched last week.  It was initially thought of as a Snapchat competitor and the successor to Poke – which I argued could have beaten Snapchat – but it’s actually quite different.

It’s hard to describe Slingshot and that’s the biggest problem.  It’s difficult to understand its purpose, and few will invest the time needed to do so.  Even after much thought, it’s still not clear why one should use Slingshot over other apps.

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Yesterday, Path launched version 4.0 of its app.  Version 4 is an incremental improvement over version 3 and there is now a new standalone messaging app.

Path is supposedly doing alright, growing from 1.5 million DAUs at the beginning of the year to 4 million.  A TechCrunch article further states that:

Southeast Asia is now its biggest market, with the U.S. coming second, but Path is also seeing some user growth from the Middle East.

While TechCrunch will readily accept Path implying it’s popular in South East Asia, data from App Annie shows that it’s really just Indonesia.

I spoke to a couple of friends in Indonesia on why they use Path.  The country has distinct characteristics that make Path a useful product there — perhaps uniquely — but that usefulness isn’t in messaging as the company believes.

It would be a mistake for Path to extrapolate too much from Indonesia into a company-wide bet.  Though I suppose they have to go somewhere.

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This article on WIRED — also highlighted on the respectable Techmeme — sucks. Take a read and then come back here. Done? Let’s do a tear down.

Clearly great features are trickling down. But what’s more interesting is how these cheap phones are going to trickle up. Put Internet-connected, app-capable smartphones running the same major operating systems the rest of us use and there will be all sorts of unforeseen ripple effects on us that we can’t even anticipate.

We tend to think of the ways our technology will affect them. That’s arrogant. We’re the minority. It’s incredibly likely that they’re going to have just as big an effect on us.

The tone is already so annoying.

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