This year is different.
Having missed its ambitious goal of putting Windows on 1 billion devices (blame it on Windows 10 Mobile’s failure and death), the tech giant shifted gears, de-emphasized Windows — the latest Windows 10 April 2018 Update just came out recently — and redirected attention on its booming Azure cloud business, AI, and building out its Microsoft 365 service.
Neither of these now core pillars of Microsoft are particularly sexy, but they’re crucial to the company’s growth and future. It’s not like Microsoft could have leaned on Windows forever.
It’s hard to bet on Windows when Windows 10 is about as finished and polished as an operating system — oh, I’m sorry, I meant service — gets. With four major updates since Windows 10’s launch and about 700 million active devices running it, things are going swimmingly even if it never reaches the 1 billion device goal. At this rate, who knows if there will ever be a Windows 11.
And Microsoft’s Windows 10 Mobile is dead. Finished. Buried forever. Instead of continuing to beat a dead horse and pretend like it still has a chance to claw itself back into the mobile game, the company, under CEO Satya Nadella, has smartly acknowledged the failure and is now putting its robust services in front of users on iOS and Android.
Sure, Microsoft still makes hardware like the Surface Pro, Surface Laptop, Surface Studio and Xbox One game consoles, but they don’t account for a huge chunk of the company’s revenue, even though both businesses saw year-over-year growth, according to its 2018 Q3 earnings report.
Without Windows, mobile, or hardware to stake its future on, Nadella’s Microsoft has no choice but to embrace the cloud, AI, and services. Not a bad thing since all of these things already run deep through today’s technology landscape and will continue to form the infrastructure for the future.
Developing ethical AI
At this year’s Build, Nadella’s theme will not only be about the importance of developing AI, but also making sure it’s created with ethics in mind. You know, so we don’t create AI that’ll manipulate and destroy mankind, like some tech innovators are cautioning.
To ensure AI is designed for good, Microsoft is announcing a new $25 million, five-year “AI for Accessibility” program that Nadella says will use AI to help “amplify human capabilities for more than 1 billion people around the world with disabilities.”
By 2020, Microsoft anticipates there will be over 20 billion smart devices around the world. Many of these smart devices will all be hooked up to the cloud, but there will also be a vast amount of devices capable of using all kinds of cameras, microphones, and AI to learn and operate without the cloud (privacy is more important now than ever).
Microsoft calls this the “intelligent edge” and as with AI for Accessibility, it’s making moves to get ahead. Beyond geeky stuff like open sourcing the Azure IoT Edge Runtime for developers, things like drones will be able to “take critical action quickly without requiring cloud connectivity.” It sounds scary for a drone to issues commands autonomously, but that means it’s even more important that its developers design them to not kill us all.
Project Kinect for Azure
Yes, the Kinect is dead… but only for Xbox. At Build, Microsoft revived Kinect as “Project Kinect for Azure.” The new package of sensors uses a next-generation depth sensor and leverages AI and intelligent edge to improve on the hand and body tracking that pioneered by the previous Kinect.
Microsoft says Project Kinect for Azure can “input fully articulated hand tracking and high fidelity spatial mapping.”
Beyond Azure and AI, Microsoft’s also investing heavily in its Microsoft 365 service. Leaving aside the Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS) side of things, most people will know it as the link that connects Office 365 and Windows 10.
For developers, there’s plenty of geeky stuff to gush over APIs for Microsoft Teams in the Microsoft Graph, .NET Core 3.0 support, and new stuff like Windows Machine Learning, a platform for developers to create machine learning models in the cloud and then deploy them on offline to PCs.
But for users like you and I, there are new ways bring some of your Windows experience to your iOS or Android device.
Microsoft announced a new “Your Phone” app that’ll let customers use their PC to see things like messages, photos, and notifications that show up across all their synced devices.
Additionally, the new Timeline feature from the Windows 10 April 2018 Update will arrive on Android via the Microsoft Launcher app and on iPhone via the Microsoft Edge app. Edge browsing sessions done from an iOS device will also start showing up on Timeline on Windows 10.