Microsoft Build 2018: A new vision of inclusiveness
We decipher what Microsoft’s new vision means, as it focuses on services
The developer conference season is upon us, and following up on Facebook’s F8 from last week, we have the annual Build conference from Microsoft. At Build 2018, the company clearly showed off that it is focusing on a world much beyond it’s Windows 10 operating system for computing devices. The ever-reducing reliance on our computers, and the increasing dependency on our phones over the past few years, has put Microsoft in a slightly awkward spot. To that effect, the company seems to have a new strategy to tackle mobile computing as well as the smart ecosystems around the technology we use. “In a single day, you’re using multiple devices, you’re at multiple locations working with multiple people, and interacting using multiple senses,” said Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft at the Build 2018 keynote, before adding, “Single devices remain important, and will remain important.”
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Build 2018 is the focus on artificial intelligence (AI). And to that effect, the announcement that Microsoft’s virtual assistant Cortana will now work with Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa. The two virtual assistants will have access to each other, which means that users using either of the two can call out to the second one as well. For instance, if you own an Alexa enabled device such as an Amazon Echo smart speaker, you will be able to access Microsoft Cortana via that. This means either assistant also gets access to the individual ecosystems (Alexa users get access to Microsoft’s Skype, for instance). Cortana needed this boost, considering it had fallen behind in the virtual assistant race, with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant leading the way. The integration is currently being tested, and while there is no confirmation on when exactly you and I can get it, we hope it is sooner rather than later.
Microsoft realizes that you probably don’t use a Windows Mobile smartphone any more. The company’s latest attempt is to play nice with your Android phone or iOS device and allow you to access your phone’s data on your Windows 10 computing device. The feature is called “Your Phone”, and it will initially allow access to messages, photos and notifications. This does remind us of a feature BlackBerry had rolled out many years ago, called the Blend. Laptop makers such as Dell and HP have also been trying similar features with their recent laptops. Your Phone feature will roll out to Windows Insiders for testing later this week, though it is still anyone’s guess as to when you or I will get access to the final implementation.
The Timeline feature, rolling out as a part of the latest update for Windows 10, will be extended to the Microsoft Launcher (Android phones) and the Edge web browser (Android and iOS).
Microsoft confirms that Windows 10 runs on nearly 700 million devices, which is up from 500 million at the same time last year. This is still some way off the 1 billion devices target Microsoft had set for 2018, which seems to be another year or so away. The company also suggests that there are now 135 million monthly active users for Office365, up from 120 million last year. Microsoft 365 is the company’s new integrated cloud platform that brings together Office 365, Windows 10, and Enterprise Mobility + Security as one solution. This will rely heavily on machine learning, which should help developers.
DJI, the world’s largest drone company, is partnering with Microsoft to use new tools for Windows and Azure IoT Edge Services to enable real time AI and machine learning for drones. The idea is to make drones useful across a bunch of new usage scenarios such as in agriculture, construction, public safety and more.
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