Microsoft always makes big announcements at the commencement of its Build conference and that’s no different in 2019. During the introduction to the Microsoft Build 2019 show we learned about a number of exciting products and services coming from Microsoft, including Azure Blockchain at your local Starbucks, and better natural language processing.
But that’s not all. Here’s everything Microsoft announced at its Build 2019 keynote.
After a botched HoloLens 2 demo with Industrial Light and Magic’s Jon Knoll, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella launched himself onto the center stage to talk about enhancing trust in the world of technology. He discussed how privacy was an intrinsic human right — and that cybersecurity could be too.
One major advancement Microsoft wants to make there is with its ElectionGuard SDK. It will be available for free on GitHub starting this summer and is designed to make it easier for developers to create secure and fair voting systems for safer elections. Technology providers are already coming on board, so we expect to hear more about this as we head towards the 2020 presidential election cycle.
Microsoft sees its Azure cloud system as “the world’s computer,” and Nadella confirmed that Microsoft now has 54 data center regions around the world, including a major one based in South Africa. It wants Azure to meet the needs of developers at every part of the developmental stack.
There were 25 major updates and features for Azure at Build 2019 alone: Microsoft is pushing Azure to the Edge, and into Azure Kinect, Azure data box, Azure IoT, Azure sphere, and even augmented reality with the Azure-connected Hololens 2 headset.
One prime example of how this technology is advancing is with Starbucks. Microsoft’s leveraging Azure Blockchain, Azure IoT, and Azure sphere to overhaul the customer experience. New, smart-connected demo screens will give customers a look at popular products, what’s available in store, and additional recommendations based on the kind of choices similar customers buy. Local preferences for users and the time of day orders are made will change the recommendations made on screen. It brings detailed machine learning and edge computing to a typically mundane part of the ordering experience.
Coffee equipment is also connected directly to Microsoft’s Azure Sphere cloud, giving Starbucks managers access to detailed information about coffee brewed, water temperature, and pull time, all to make sure that machines and staff are operating at peak performance. This also makes it easier to predict when maintenance is required, cutting down on costs and speeding up customer response times for baristas.
Recipes for new drinks can be delivered electronically to help circumvent potential data loss in typical physical transit, as well as speeding up the process of deployment.
Customers will even be able to use the Azure Blockchain system to find out where coffee beans originated from on their phone by scanning a code on the coffee bag.
Natural language transcription
The Azure speech service is a major advancement of Microsoft’s computing on the edge enhancements with its cloud platform –and it’s already saving lives. Its transcription system can now learn jargon and buzzwords that are specific to certain organizations and teams, making slang no greater a barrier than different languages for Azure transcription.
As part of Microsoft’s 365 for business, the Azure Speech Service can assign transcriptions to people using their voice signature to track them, and in the demo we were given, had no trouble dealing with a variety of buzzwords and product names, which include periods, symbols, and acronyms.
Hololens 2’s augmented reality blurs the bounds between the assisted computing world Microsoft is building with Azure, and the real world that we inhabit. While Build 2019 might have kicked off with a botched Hololens 2 demo, Microsoft is still excited by its potential. Nadella told us about Philips and PTC using mixed reality to hit new thresholds of design and product development.
Microsoft seems to have stepped back from pushing its Cortana smart assistant in recent years, but Nadella proved that it’s still a major development for Microsoft. After purchasing Semantic Machines in 2018, Microsoft has been enhancing Cortana to become a multi-domain and multi-platform smart assistant.
Advancements in natural language understanding will make Cortana more versatile and useful to users looking to schedule their day and remind themselves of important appointments. By integrating with skills like calendars and even the user’s car, information can be pulled as required and new commands can be sent to different devices and platforms throughout the day to deliver a more uniform, universal smart assistant experience.
The company played a video demonstrating how Cortana Skills could play out in someone’s workday, seamlessly juggling schedules, calendars, contacts, and platforms.
Microsoft might be redesigning its flagship browser on the Chromium engine, but the company’s not giving up on its own clever developments in the browser space just yet. Edge is an open-source development, and Microsoft is keen to give back to that community. The browser is coming to every platform — Macs, mobile devices running Android and iOS, Windows systems, and more. Edge is being designed with end users and professionals in mind.
Bringing its collaborative innovations to the browser, Microsoft is enhancing Edge with new tools like Collections, which lets users save images, links, and products in a shareable space. Any of this can be sent via email, copied to the clipboard, or added to Office documents like Word and Excel. There’s even swift and automated formatting to make it easy to compare products or services.
Edge will soon have built-in support for Internet Explorer too, removing one of the major security concerns of older IE-compatible sites and services that would previously require using an outdated browser to access.
A customizable tab screen will give Edge a much more personal home screen as well, and contextual search results in the Bing search engine will be enhanced through links to other relevant information.
On the privacy front, Edge now has a variety of easy-to-understand privacy stances that a user can pick. It’s a three-tier system with automated blockers of certain trackers and adverts depending on your comfort sharing information with brands; malicious trackers are blocked for everyone.
Office 365 Fluid Framework
Microsoft 365 apps will soon be able to take advantage of a “Fluid Framework” which enhances collaboration like co-authoring documents. Multiple users can type into the same documents, interacting through native applications and web-based applications at the same time with very little latency. Fluid is designed to make it seem as if users are working together on the same device.
AI is also brought into the picture, allowing for automated language translation for multiple document authors at the same time. In one example, nine languages were translating text in real time to different readers at the same time. Bot collaborators can even automatically recommend graphs or different ways to represent data as new additions are made, with real-time updates being shared with all users at the same time.
Linking up with other applications like Outlook, even allows graphs which have been emailed to people can be updated automatically after the fact, with data added or altered by the original creator.
Microsoft also talked up its collaborative meeting tool, Teams (the powerhouse software behind the new Surface Hub 2) and how it will soon enjoy automated transcriptions, and enhancements to improve fields of view in 2D meetings — like making certain people “invisible,” so they don’t get in the way of the main whiteboard.
But 3D is where Microsoft is really excited about Teams development. Mattel has an intriguing way of using Teams and HoloLens to create a live Spatial meeting, using augmented reality to start a 3D meeting with Teams. It brings in various users around the world, and anything shared in the Teams chat is automatically brought into the 3D, augmented reality experience. Hand tracking with the HoloLens 2 makes it possible to physically throw virtual items to team members, while a virtual hand-tool makes it easier to access more detailed menus and information.
But if you don’t have a HoloLens you can join the virtual meeting with a 2D video that appears as a virtual screen in the 3D meeting. Those users can still send content into the meeting using their PC, or smartphone — whatever device, as long as it can run the Teams app.
Last, but certainly not least, Microsoft finally addressed gaming. And despite suggestions that there was something exciting to announce, nothing materialized. Microsoft showed a short demo of what appeared to be some sort of augmented reality Minecraft experience, but it may well have been an advert for the game’s 10-year anniversary on May 17 — which still definitely won’t have original game creator Notch involved.
While Nadella highlighted how Microsoft is keen to see gamers play on PC, console, and mobile, and how developers can leverage Xbox Live to build better games, none of it materialized into anything concrete. Perhaps we’ll learn more about Microsoft’s gaming plans as Build continues over the next couple of days.
We’re updating this post as Microsoft announces more throughout the day. So be sure to come back to see what new information has come to light.
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