This is the TechSummit Rewind, a daily recap of the top technology headlines.
Microsoft Teams launches to bring Slack the heat
At an event in New York today, Microsoft launched Teams, its long-rumored Slack competitor. Teams ties into Redmond’s existing Office 365 subscription, and is described by Microsoft as a chat-based workspace that’s focused on real-time collaboration.
“Microsoft Teams will bring together chat, meeting, notes, Office, Planner, PowerBI, and a host of extensions and applications to help teams get work done.”
-Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO
Certainly, there’s a lot of cues taken from Slack, like threaded persistent chats that can be open or private 1:1 sessions, and a sidebar with meetings, files, chats, and activity notifications. It also includes a conversation view with the ability to drop meetings straight into chat, alongside files, notes, and project boards.
Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote are all built into Teams, alongside meetings with Skype for Business and integrations with SharePoint, Power BI, and Planner. Notifications are being provided by Exchange.
During the event, Redmond showed off Twitter integrations, where you can push Tweets into chat rooms, create quick pools, or share custom memes. However, Skype’s integration is particularly unique with the ability for chatters to drop in and out of persistent video calls to gather for projects or a quick chat.
Office 365 customers can preview Teams today in 181 countries and 18 languages. Microsoft plans to include the service in all Office 365 Business and Enterprise suites, with general availability slated for early 2017. The company’s also opening its developer preview program today, with 150 integrations expected at launch early next year, alongside 70 connectors and 85 bots.
Facebook continues growth with profits nearly tripling
Facebook has recorded yet another blockbuster quarter. Over the last three months, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based company had $7.01 billion in revenue and $2.38 billion in profits, which is up 106 percent from last year.
A big part of that is thanks to mobile advertising. 84 percent of its ad revenue comes from mobile, with the number of mobile monthly active users rising to 1.66 billion (a 20 percent increase year-over-year). In fact, 1.055 billion users are mobile-only. Overall, its monthly active users have blossomed to 1.79 billion, up 16 percent from last year.
“We’re prioritizing to put video first in our family of apps. We think the camera will be the main way people share.”
-Mark Zuckerburg, Facebook CEO
Zuckerburg called to the rise of Facebook Live, which has quadrupled since May. Instagram Stories now has over 100 million daily active users, along with the photo social network’s Explore feature.
He also mentioned a three-phase approach that the company hopes will grow its’ apps over the next few years. The first phase is to deliver a great consumer experience, the second is to allow users to organically interact with businesses, and the third is to give businesses more ways to reach people. According to Zuckerburg, Instagram’s in the third phase, with over 500 million monthly active users and 300 million daily active users. Messenger’s in the second phase, with over 33,000 bots on the platform. WhatsApp will be next to enter the second phase.
Internet.org is also paying massive dividends to Facebook’s growth. According to Zuckerburg, the initiative has already connected over 40 million people worldwide.
Next, he talked about how the company’s investing in tech like Artificial Intelligence. According to Zuckerburg, Facebook is already seeing impact from AI in enhancing users’ experience on Facebook, from filtering out clickbait stories and finding terrorist propaganda. He hopes that AI can be used to improve the quality of News Feed in general.
As for VR, he reiterated the news from Oculus Connect. The aforementioned subsidiary’s Touch controllers are arriving in early December and the next phase is to focus mostly on great software experiences. Facebook’s going to be investing over $250 million on developing more VR concepts.
Apple explains why new MacBook Pro ditches SD card slot
Apple Senior VP Phil Schiller defended the company’s decision to ditch the SD card slot in an interview with The Independent. He called it a “bit of a cumbersome slot” since the card juts outward, and argued that the slot was a compromise since it forced high-end camera owners (who often use CompactFlash or XQD cards) to get an external reader. According to Schiller, any slot is less necessary these days. For instance, most modern cameras have built-in wireless transfers to get footage off the camera.
Schiller also explained why Macs don’t have “hey, Siri” voice activation, calling it a combination of “system electronics” with expectations.
Uber streamlines app in attempt to eliminate confusion
Uber is rolling out a major redesign of its app that’s meant to offer a cleaner interface, less confusion around which service to request, and shortcut options to frequent destinations.
The new app minimizes the previous menu of ill-defined tiers that changed based on the city to three clearer-cut categories: Economy (UberPool and UberX), Premium (Uber Select and town cars), Extra Seats (extra-large cars and SUVs), and More (for those that need a child’s car seat or a wheelchair-accessible vehicle).
Uber is also adding arrival times to all its options that predict when you’re likely to get to your destination – a range for Pool rides, and more specific times for solo trips. After inputting your destination, the app tells you how much your trip will cost before you confirm the request. Surge pricing is still all but invisible, noted in the fine print about “fares being higher than normal” under your quote.
Perhaps more notable is the change to the “Pickup Location” and “Destination” fields in the current app. Now, you’re greeted by a single field that says “Where to?” According to app redesign product manager Yuhki Yamashita, his team “shaved off every millisecond possible to make it a faster experience.”
Uber is now also using its troves of rider data to show shortcuts to favorite destinations like most map apps. To start, you can add shortcuts for Home and Work, but company CEO Travis Kalanick called an expansion of the shortcut offerings a “natural next step.” In the coming weeks, you’ll be able to connect Uber with your mobile device’s native calendar, which will show up as destination shortcuts as it corresponds with your schedule.
The company’s using machine learning to best predict where you’re going before you open the app.
There’s also a new feed feature where you can see things like Yelp reviews, UberEats, Pandora radio stations, an Uber Snapchat filter (seriously) that shows your ETA, or a train station timetable if you’re using Uber to connect to public transit via the Transit app. Many of these features won’t come until later this year.
Finally, Uber is launching a location-sharing feature that lets contacts within Uber share their locations with each other and effectively turn your friend into a location. This means that your Uber could take you exactly to where your contact happens to be.
New Fitbits aren’t helping slowing sales
Fitbit announced revenue that was about $3 million short of its third quarter revenue goals. The company’s net income was around $26 million, compared to $46 million for the same period last year.
Despite launching two new devices and partnerships with Kohl’s and Vera Wang, Fitbit saw only 11 percent growth in unit sales with the refresh not moving as many units as the company hoped it would.
“We continue to grow and are profitable, however not at the pace previously expected.”
-James Park, Fitbit CEO
According to Park, the company will re-focus on “improving the utility of our products and integrating more deeply into the healthcare ecosystem” while leveraging the brand for new growth areas.
Amazon’s physical bookstores charge more if you’re not on Prime
In case you’ve been leaving under a rock, Amazon really wants you to join Prime. According to GeekWire, the company has adopted a unique pricing model at its physical bookstores: a sticker price for Prime members and another for regular customers. Subscribers get the same price as on Amazon’s website, while everyone else has to pay the normal (usually higher) list price.