TechSummit Rewind 174: Microsoft Build 2017

This is a special edition of the TechSummit Rewind, focusing on Microsoft’s Build 2017 conference.

Windows 10

Fall Creators Update

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Windows 10’s next major update is the Fall Creators Update which is set to launch in September. Microsoft is renewing the Creators Update used for the current version of the OS launched in April, with this iteration featuring a new focus on bringing Windows experiences to iOS and Android.

There are four key new features:

Timeline improves the Task View area by providing a list of apps and workspaces that you were previously using across your devices. It also combines with a new Pick Up Where You Left Off feature for resuming sessions and apps across devices.

Microsoft is also creating a cloud clipboard that will roam across Windows, iOS, and Android to let people copy content from a PC and paste it on a mobile device a la Apple’s Universal Clipboard.

This is being bolstered by other apps in the Microsoft ecosystem. Its Swiftkey keyboard will open a new tab with a list of copied content from a Windows 10 PC. Office apps will also soon let you paste content into documents after copying from a phone.

Also, a new Fluent Design language (previously dubbed Project Neon) will be launching with the Fall Creators Update. Some of Microsoft’s apps have been converted to the new language, and it’s an effort to move on from the Metro user interface of Windows 8. The changes will also come to Microsoft’s apps on iOS and Android.

Most of the changes we’ll see include subtle additions like blur effects, which we saw in Windows Vista.

These design changes are going to come gradually, with some already available in updates to existing Windows 10 apps and others appearing in the OS itself with the Fall Creators Update and updates after that.

“It’s going to be a journey.”

-Aaron Woodman, Microsoft director

Microsoft’s focusing on light, depth, motion, material, and scale for the design language with subtle changes that make the design feel like it’s moving between interactions in Windows.

An inking demo also showed how the company is planning to bring full pen support to Windows, letting you annotate PDFs and write anywhere in Windows.

Lastly, Microsoft is tweaking its OneDrive cloud service to pick data from the cloud when it’s needed, without having to sync full files or folders to a device.

The feature, called OneDrive Files On-Demand, will only download files when they’re needed. Microsoft is placing new status icons in File Explorer that show if files are available locally or if they’re need to be downloaded from the cloud. If you’ve opened a file recently online, it’ll be synced and available offline. Otherwise, you’ll still need to select folders for syncing offline or individual files. Any files opened are automatically synced offline until you run out of disk space.

Microsoft Edge will also be getting faster in the update. The first priority here is making opening and closing tabs a lot smoother, eliminating the lag that currently appears occasionally when opening a new tab and typing a URL.

As part of the aforementioned Fluid Design system, you’ll start seeing more modern design touches in the browser. This includes a new favorites animation, alongside visuals for when you click on objects.

500M devices

500 million machines are now actively using Windows, up 100 million from the 400 million devices Microsoft claimed eight months ago.

Story Remix

Remix

Windows Movie Maker is finally getting its spiritual successor. After being ditched several years ago with no true replacement, Microsoft has now brought along Story Remix as its reincarnation.

Story Remix collates images and videos you use from any device through the cloud. Story Remix apps will also be coming to iOS and Android so you can grab content from all of your connected devices and work on your video.

Microsoft is also combining its work on Remix 3D and Paint 3D (introduced in the Spring Creators Update) to let Windows users import their creations into their movies. Objects can also be pinned to scenes a la Snapchat. Soundtracks can also be imported from the company’s Groove Music service.

iTunes

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Apple is planning to bring its iTunes desktop app to the Windows Store.

This is a big move particularly after the launch of Windows 10 S, an education-focused version of the OS that can only access apps from the aforementioned store.

VR motion controllers

Microsoft has announced a set of motion controllers for its Windows Mixed Reality VR headsets, which will be fully tracked by sensors in the headset. They’re expected to start going on sale this holiday season, with Acer selling a $399 headset bundle that includes them.

These controllers look similar to its counterparts on the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. There’s a vertically placed ring of LEDs on one end for tracking and a panel with a round trackpad, analog sticks, and menu button. On the body, there’s a Windows button and a side grip trigger.

HoloLens

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One year after Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed reality headset began shipping in the United States and Canada, we now know that its next frontier is China. It’ll come to the Chinese market by the end of the month.

Microsoft sees China as “the world’s biggest market for virtual reality,” so it makes sense for the company to place an emphasis on the country. So far, over 22,000 developers have “imaged over 70,000 transformative concepts on HoloLens,” according to company technical fellow Alex Kipman.

Cirque du Soleil

Cirque du Soleil has also partnered with Microsoft to let the acrobatic entertainment company test out stage setups and choreography in augmented reality using HoloLens.

According to Cirque du Soleil director of creation Chantal Tremblay, it takes the company 18-24 months from choosing a show theme to releasing it to the public. Much of that time is spent building out the show’s sets in Cirque’s Montreal studios. However, Cirque’s scenic designer Carl Fillion said that the company will “be able to visualize the same stage and all the equipment into the same studios at real scale” months before construction.

“We are closer than ever to a perfect creation tool.”

-Carl Fillion, Cirque du Soleil scenic designer

A demo showed Tremblay, Fillion, and one of their Cirque co-workers collaborating on a new set with basic geometric shapes. They were also to bring another co-worker into the scene with a virtual avatar, similar to what Facebook’s been doing with VR. By the end, they created a life-sized version of a potential Cirque du Soleil set, complete with dancers moving through.

“To be able to see that so early in the process is amazing and totally new. Usually we have to wait until we finalize our casting and the artists come to Montreal, but now by looking at it we could even make changes [to the performance, or even change the casting call based on those real-time design choices].”

-Chantal Tremblay, Cirque du Soleil director of creation

Cortana

Cortana 1

In light of the recent successes of Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home in moving beyond the mobile device, Microsoft is trying to do the same with Cortana.

The company showed off how the Halo-inspired voice assistant would work in the recently announced Harmon Kardon Invoke speaker and a demo car.

Cortana can perform the usual set of daily schedule reminders, travel plans, and basic questions. However, Microsoft also showed off how she can tie into office tools and apps, like a corporate timesheet system.

Additionally, we saw how the cross platform nature of Cortana can expand its usefulness, with the assistant working contextually based on which device it’s on. For example, if you receive a message while driving, Cortana will offer to remind you about it when you sit down at your desk PC where you can respond safely, or provide a summary of the message instead of reading the whole thing.

We don’t know exactly when to expect this integration, but the Invoke speaker is set to launch this fall. Microsoft has also launched partnerships with BMW and Nissan, and there are plans to bring Cortana to a wider range of IoT-connected devices.

PowerPoint

A new PowerPoint add-in will let users present slides in a foreign language. Presenters can download Microsoft’s Translator app and sync it to a PowerPoint presentation. The link will then provide closed captioning over the slides automatically.

However, a demonstration with Microsoft executive Harry Shum wasn’t perfect. Shum’s Chinese wasn’t picked up by the translator several times, before eventually being successful.

The new tool is being previewed now at the company’s Garage site.

Project Emma

Microsoft has created a watch that hopes to help people with Parkinson’s disease write more clearly. The Emma Watch sends vibrations to the brain that distract it from creating hand tremors. This helps calm the muscle movements and makes writing easier. For now, it’s only a prototype, but it could represent a useful step forward for those that suffer from the disease.

The pattern of vibrations can be adjusted using a Windows 10 app.

Uncontrolled shaking in a common symptom to Parkinson’s, an incurable disease that affects over 10 million people worldwide and causes loss of motor control. The Emma Watch is named after graphic designer Emma Lawton, who has Parkinson’s and is a friend of Microsoft Research innovation director Haiyan Zhang. Zhang created the watch with Lawton in mind.

“The writing, it’s not going to be perfect. But my God, it’s better.”

-Emma Lawton, graphic designer

Zhang wants to do more research into how AI and sensors can help those with Parkinson’s.

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