Microsoft Build showcased how the company is connecting PCs to iPhones and Androids.
Microsoft’s annual developers conference wrapped up its run in downtown Seattle on Wednesday. After three days packed with news of a $25 million investment in artificial intelligence for people with disabilities, plenty of new technical features, and an appearance by miniature horses, the thousands of software engineer attendees are vacating the Washington State Convention Center .
Here’s a look at a few key announcements and features unveiled at Microsoft Build.
All cloud, all the time
As expected, Microsoft focused heavily on its cloud offerings – Azure and Microsoft 365 – during this year’s Build conference. After a corporate reorganization last month that de-emphasized Windows and put more weight on the cloud, it wasn’t a surprise to hear the number of times Azure was mentioned (too many to count).
Attention has shifted significantly to Azure within the company’s ranks just within the last few years, said Julia White, Microsoft corporate vice president of Azure.
When she joined the Azure team about three years ago, it felt a bit as though they were outsiders within the company, she said. People were curious, but didn’t really understand the cloud computing division. Now it has become a well-recognized industry standard. “It has, from a business perspective, essentially unlimited growth potential,” she said.
Bots infused with personality
One of the most applause-worthy demos at Build featured a conference room meeting, complete with language translation services that understood perfectly what everyone in the room was saying – including someone who is deaf and others speaking multiple languages – and transcribed everything onto a screen for all to read.
Not all of those technologies (including the speaker featured) are publicly available yet, but language translation has been a talked-about Microsoft service for a couple years.
Also in the land of artificial intelligence, the company announced it is testing a bot with different types of personalities. Project Personality Chat lets people choose between a “professional,” “humorous” or “friendly” personality for their bot, a type of online assistant that has become more popular, especially in the customer service space.
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The bots are used by all types of companies to help customers find answers and get directed to the right places online, said Lili Cheng, corporate vice president of Microsoft AI and Research. Bots with different personalities can be used in different settings, she said, depending on who companies are trying to reach – be it teenage shoppers or lawyers looking for financial advice.
Phone, meet computer
Microsoft showed two features that will better connect your PC and your phone … but the company doesn’t have release dates yet.
One Windows 10 app, Your Phone, will automatically transfer text messages, notifications and photos from your phone directly to your PC when the phone is nearby and the feature is turned on. The information is shared only between the two devices and never reaches the cloud, said Shilpa Ranganathan, a general manager in the Windows division.
The other application, Timeline, shows a list of the last websites you’ve visited, emails you’ve opened, Word documents you’ve edited, etc. It’s available now on Windows 10 for PCs, and soon will be accessible on iPhones and Androids.
Hands-free, virtual calls
HoloLens, Microsoft’s augmented reality technology, now supports calling through Microsoft’s Teams product. It makes it easier for people to call business contacts, said mixed reality general manager Lorraine Bardeen, especially when they need help with an issue that requires both hands.
Microsoft envisions it being used by so-called “first-line” workers, such as mechanics, when they need to fix something. With the feature, Remote Assist, they can talk to an expert on the phone, have both hands free, and the expert can see exactly what they see.
More money for developers
Developers who make applications for Windows will now receive between 85 percent and 95 percent of app revenue, depending on where the customer downloads the app. Before this, Microsoft took about 30 percent of the revenue in most cases, leaving developers with 70 percent. The new revenue split applies only to non-gaming apps, but it’s a big boost for a lot of developers – and a way for Microsoft to give them an incentive to build for Windows.