Microsoft Build 2018: Announcements & Releases

Day 1

May 7th

We are tracking all of Microsoft’s big announcements from the first day of their annual conference, Build 2018. Here are a few of the many topics Microsoft (MS) touched on today:

  • Smart Drones: MS and Chinese drone manufacturer DJI announced a new partnership that aims to bring more of Microsoft’s machine learning smarts to commercial drones. The two companies also plan to offer new commercial drone solutions using Azure IoT Edge and related AI technologies for verticals like agriculture, construction, and public safety.
  • Graph: MS is making additions to its developer platform that connects multiple services and devices, (e.g., an API platform used to connect to the data that drives productivity). Though it is not clear what the full potential of Microsoft Graph may be, it is evident that MS is determined to get developers on board.
  • Project Ink Analysis: A tool designed to make sense of digital writing, Ink Analysis can clean up “chicken scratch” handwriting and translate from 67 different languages - beneficial for Surface Pen users looking to give their digital writing a more professional look.
  • Project Kinect for Azure: MS brags that this project is the most powerful sensor kit with spatial human and object understanding. The project would combine the depth sensor from Kinect with Azure AI services which could help developers make devices that will be more precise with less power consumption.
  • Alexa & Cortana: MS demonstrated how the integration between Cortana and Alexa will work, and launched a new website for developers interested in receiving more info and news on the C&A integration going forward. Microsoft’s goal is to “make it possible for [their] customers to get the most out of their personal assistants—[and] not be bound to some walled garden,” according to CEO Satya Nadella.
  • AI & ML: MS is putting a lot of emphasis on its AI and machine learning services, including a unified speech service that will combine speech recognition service, text-to-speech API, customized voice models, and translation service. Microsoft 365 (M365) will also have new tools, including Windows Machine Learning, a platform that will help developers create machine learning models in the intelligent cloud.
  • Technology Accessibility: The company announced a commitment of $25 million for a five-year AI for Accessibility Project, making technology more accessible to people with disabilities. Seed grants will be given to developers, universities, inventors, and NGOs, in order to create solutions and new opportunities for people with disabilities.
  • Mixed Reality Tools: An extension of mixed reality tools, like Microsoft Layout lets people design and visualize real spaces in either Microsoft HoloLens or a virtual reality (VR) headset. Microsoft Remote Assist is a HoloLens app that will allow customers to collaborate securely using heads-up, hands-free video calls from their own separate computers.
  • Azure IoT: MS will be open-sourcing its IoT Edge runtime - allowing customers to modify, debug, and have more transparency and control for Edge applications. Custom Vision will run on IoT Edge, utilizing Cognitive Services for its vision, so Edge devices make decisions and take action without a cloud connection.
  • Meeting Room: MS is working on a prototype hardware that will make meetings a lot easier, mainly through a 360-degree camera and microphone that can detect anyone in a meeting room, greet them, and transcribe exactly what they say, regardless of language. The company is also using AI tools to take what is said in a meeting and act upon it, like automatically setting up notifications in Microsoft Teams.


Day 2

May 8th

Though Day 2 of the Build conference may not be as thrilling as the first, Microsoft took time, today, to flesh out topics and demonstrations from Day 1. Here are more updates from Build 2018:

  • Windows Store: In an attempt to attract new developers, MS is changing its Store policies to allow developers to keep 95% of the revenue from their apps. This 95% cap will only be available on consumer apps, not games, and will apply to apps for Windows 10, Windows Mixed Reality, Windows Phone, and Surface Hub.
  • Microsoft Pay: MS is updating its digital wallet service, Microsoft Pay, into Outlook. This means that when a company sends you an invoice in an email, and you are using Outlook to read it, you can pay that bill directly without leaving Outlook to open a different app or service. Stripe (using Stripe Connect) and Braintree are two of the payment processors powering the service. Zuora, FreshBooks, Intuit, Invoice2Go, Sage, Wave, and Xero will be among the billing and invoicing services that will initially employ the feature.
  • Windows 10 Redstone 5 Update: The next Windows 10 update, scheduled for release this fall, is currently in testing. One feature touched upon, at Build, was Sets - a universal tab system spanning all apps on your computer, as well as the internet. For example, all website tabs on Edge are condensed into a single tab, next to your Word documents or Office apps, in a single window. Because of this change, the Alt-Tab feature will also change; so, instead of tabbing between apps, it will allow Windows 10 users to switch between tabs within Sets.
  • Visual Studio Live Share: Regardless of what app is being built, or what language or operating system (OS) used, Live Share allows collaboration across multiple devices and platforms. Users can collaboratively edit and debug in real-time, emphasizing Microsoft’s shift toward open-source collaboration. Developers can see when their colleagues are typing, no matter what platform they are on. All developers, in a Live Share session, can stay within their preferred environments. Users can also view web apps and databases without exposing ports to the internet.
  • Project Brainwave: Though it was announced as a new architecture for deep neural processing over a year ago, a preview of Project Brainwave is now available on Azure and on the edge. This project will make Azure the fastest cloud running, real-time AI; and with full integration via Azure Machine Learning. Project Brainwave is also in development for Azure Stack and Azure Data Box. Microsoft is attaching the FPGAs directly to its overall data center network, which allows them to become something akin to hardware microservices.

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