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Microsoft Monday: Build 2018 Announcements, Improved Screenshot Tool, Minecraft Aquatic Update

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella giving a keynote at Build 2018 (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

“Microsoft Monday” is a weekly column that focuses on all things Microsoft. This week, Microsoft Monday includes details about the Build 2018 announcements, a major Outlook update, an improved screenshot tool, 1 billion hours of Xbox One backward compatibility logged and much more!

Build 2018 Announcements

Today, Microsoft hosted its annual Build conference. Here is a breakdown of the major announcements that Microsoft made at the event:

Alexa And Cortana Talk To Each Other

It has been known for a while that Microsoft and Amazon were working together on integrating Alexa and Cortana. And at the Build conference, Microsoft demoed Cortana running on Alexa and Alexa running on Cortana. This can be activated by saying “Alexa, open Cortana.” Then you can request queries like “what is the weather?” or “send an email to John.”

The integration of Cortana and Alexa is currently in limited beta. And it is unknown when the integration will roll out for everyone, but you can receive email updates about it.

Windows 10 Is Now Used On Nearly 700 Million Devices

At Build, Microsoft said that there are now nearly 700 million devices that are running Windows 10. This is up from about 500 million a year ago. Back in 2015, Microsoft set an ambitious goal of hitting 1 billion Windows 10 devices by 2018. However, it will most likely take at least another year to hit that goal.

Windows 10 Timeline For Android And iOS Coming

The Windows 10 Timeline feature will be added to Android and iOS as part of the Launcher and Edge apps. Specifically, the Timeline feature will be built into the Edge app on iOS and the Launcher app for Android. The Timeline feature allows you to pull up a task or a file that you were working on in the past as long as you are connected to your Microsoft Account.

Better Revenue Share For Developers

At the Build conference, Microsoft said that later this year, developers of consumer apps (with the exception of games) in the Microsoft Store will receive 95% of the revenue earned from the app and in-app sales when a customer uses a deep link to get to and purchase the app. And when Microsoft delivers developers a customer through other methods like a collection on the Microsoft Store or any other Microsoft properties, 85% of the revenue will be paid out.

“The new fee structure is applicable to purchases made on Windows 10 PCs, Windows Mixed Reality, Windows Phone and Surface Hub devices and excludes purchases on Xbox consoles,” said Microsoft in a blog post.

Your Phone App

Microsoft Your Phone feature

Microsoft is releasing a new app called Your Phone. The Your Phone app will mirror what you see on your phone to your PC. This will allow Windows 10 users to interact with text messages, photos and notifications on their Windows 10 devices.

It’s worth mentioning that the features will vary depending on whether you have an iOS or Android device. Since Android has less restrictions, Microsoft will be able to mirror more Android features to Windows 10 devices. And the Your Phone app will be tested with Windows Insiders this week and is expected to be released to the public in the fall.

The Return Of The Kinect

The Microsoft Kinect is returning, but it will be used for Azure rather than the Xbox in this iteration. The Kinect for Xbox was suspended in 2017. Project Kinect for Azure will have a next-generation depth camera and a processor designed for handling artificial intelligence.

Specifically, it can be used for robotic guidance systems, tracking movements in office buildings and retail stores and handling facial recognition reports Business Insider.

In 2011, Microsoft attempted to bring Kinect to the enterprise. But it did not resonate with businesses at the time. In this iteration, Microsoft is emphasizing edge computing for Project Kinect for Azure, which processes a substantial amount of data before it is backed up to the cloud.

Project Kinect for Azure unlocks countless new opportunities to take advantage of Machine Learning, Cognitive Services and IoT Edge. We envision that Project Kinect for Azure will result in new AI solutions from Microsoft and our ecosystem of partners, built on the growing range of sensors integrating with Azure AI services,” wrote Microsoft’s Alex Kipman. “I cannot wait to see how developers leverage it to create practical, intelligent and fun solutions that were not previously possible across a raft of industries and scenarios.”

Project Ink Analysis

Microsoft announced Project Ink Analysis at the Build conference. This feature transcribes digitally written notes into text. And this tool is able to understand the words, bullet points and alignment.

Microsoft Excel: Custom JavaScript Functions And BI Visuals

Today Microsoft is launching several features to Excel, including Azure Machine Learning and custom JavaScript functions. Developers will be able to build new data visualizations in Excel through support for Power BI Custom Visuals. And with support for Azure Machine Learning, Excel users will be able to utilize machine learning models created by Microsoft’s data scientists.

“Machine Learning functions can be created by AI developers, including data scientists and other experts. The functions are each based on a service that calculates or predicts values with a machine learning model,” said Microsoft in a blog post. “Once the model is deployed, the creators can enable it for anyone they choose. Within a company, administrators can configure who has access to which proprietary functions. Then, every time someone wants to run the function, they simply type in a cell, just like for any other Excel function. The function calls a live web service on the company’s Azure subscription and returns the result asynchronously.”

JS custom functions for Excel is available now in Developer preview to Office 365 subscribers who are enrolled in the Office Insiders program. And Azure Machine Learning functions and Power BI Custom Visuals will be rolling out in preview soon.

Speech Devices SDK

Microsoft has announced that it will be launching a software development kit (SDK) for audio processing called Speech Devices. Support for noise cancellation and far-field voice recognition will be included in the SDK. So this could help in building applications involving a variety of voice scenarios including noisy conditions.

$25 Million Commitment For AI For Accessibility

Microsoft President Brad Smith said that only one in 10 people with disabilities have access to assistive technology. To addresses this problem, Microsoft has announced that it is investing $25 million as part of a five-year AI for Accessibility project.

The AI for Accessibility program will provide grants to developers, NGOs and universities. To receive a grant, the projects must emphasize on creating solutions that creates new ways to assist people with disabilities with life, work and human connections. Microsoft will also provide resources to help that project scale.

Azure IoT Edge

At the Build conference, Microsoft announced that Azure IoT Edge — which is a set of tools that facilitates artificial intelligence for IoT devices — will be updated with several new features. And Azure IoT Edge will gain support for Microsoft Cognitive Services APIs. Plus Azure IoT Edge runtime is being open sourced so developers can customize deployments.

Qualcomm Partnership

Microsoft has partnered with Qualcomm for launching an artificial intelligence developer kit for “on-device inferencing on the edge.” The first version of the kit will revolve around camera-based solutions.

“This vision AI developer kit brings all the key hardware and software required to develop camera-based IoT solutions using Azure IoT Edge and Azure Machine Learning—helping developers deliver the next generation of AI-enabled robotics, industrial safety, retail, home and enterprise security cameras, smart home devices, and more,” said Microsoft in a blog post.

GitHub Partnership

Visual Studio App Center

Microsoft has announced it has partnered with GitHub to bring the Visual Studio App Center to the GitHub marketplace. The Visual Studio App Center is a mobile app development solution for developers to create Windows, macOS, Android and iOS apps.

The Visual Studio App Center automates the building, testing and monitoring Swift, Java, Xamarin, C#, Objective-C and Reactive Native apps in one place. And developers that utilize GitHub will be able to automate processes from within the code repository service.

DJI Partnership

Microsoft and DJI announced a strategic partnership at the Build event today. As part of the partnership, Microsoft Azure is now its preferred cloud computing partner. Azure will be used for analyzing video data captured by DJI drones.

And DJI is releasing a software development kit (SDK) for Windows. The companies will offer commercial drone solutions with Azure IoT Edge and AI technologies to many verticals. And the two companies are already working together on Microsoft FarmBeats, which is an AI service for farmers.

“As computing becomes ubiquitous, the intelligent edge is emerging as the next technology frontier,” said Microsoft EVP of the Cloud and Enterprise Group Scott Guthrie. “DJI is the leader in commercial drone technology, and Microsoft Azure is the preferred cloud for commercial businesses. Together, we are bringing unparalleled intelligent cloud and Azure IoT capabilities to devices on the edge, creating the potential to change the game for multiple industries spanning agriculture, public safety, construction and more.”

Azure Bot Service

The Azure Bot Service is known for providing developers with tools for building and deploying bots across applications like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Skype and Messenger. Over 100 new features have been added to the Azure Bot Service based around bots, speech and translation.

Preview Of Project Brainwave

Today Microsoft announced a preview launch of the Project Brainwave hardware architecture for accelerating real-time AI calculations. “The Project Brainwave architecture is deployed on a type of computer chip from Intel called a field programmable gate array, or FPGA, to make real-time AI calculations at competitive cost and with the industry’s lowest latency, or lag time,” said Microsoft’s Allison Linn. “This is based on internal performance measurements and comparisons to other organization’s publicly posted information.”

IntelliCode

Microsoft announced a new developer tool for Visual Studio called IntelliCode. IntelliCode helps developers improve productivity by recommending the most likely API. This reduces the amount of keystrokes required for completing lines of code.

“IntelliCode is a set of AI-assisted capabilities that improve developer productivity with features like contextual IntelliSense, inference and enforcement for code styles, and focused reviews for your pull requests (PRs.),” said Microsoft in a blog post.

Microsoft Layout

Microsoft Layout is a new mixed reality tool that will enable designers to visualize spaces using the HoloLens or another VR headset. And Layout can be used for defining floor plans and move around 3D models using the VR headset.

Microsoft Pay Arrives On Outlook

Microsoft Pay in Outlook

At Build, Microsoft said that the Microsoft Pay platform will be integrated into Outlook. So when you receive an invoice in an email and you use Outlook to read it, you will be able to pay the bill directly without having to leave the email platform. This feature will appear in the form of an Adaptive Card on the right-hand side of Outlook.

Some of the third party companies that will have Microsoft Pay integrated into its platforms first include Stripe, Braintree, Zuora, FreshBooks, Intuit and Xero.

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