Mixed reality meetings are coming to teamS
Mesh for Teams was announced at Microsoft's Ignite event, paving the path for mixed-reality collaboration. The platform is a collaboration between Teams and Microsoft Mesh, the company's virtual and augmented reality technology, which debuted at this year's first Ignite event in March. Mesh brings individuals from all around the world together through shared holographic experiences and, more recently, the collaboration capabilities in Teams. Mesh for Teams, which is expected to launch in the first half of 2022, will add virtual meetings, chat, and document sharing to Teams.
Smartphones, PCs, and mixed-reality headsets will all be able to access the platform. Microsoft's HoloLens, as well as devices from other manufacturers such as Oculus, are supported. The bulk of users will engage with Mesh for Teams through customized avatars, according to Microsoft.
What is Microsoft Mesh, and how does it work? The avatar's interactivity will be heavily influenced by the gear available to the user, but Microsoft claims that a wide range of devices will be supported, from a laptop with a single microphone to a HoloLens headset with six microphones and 16 cameras.
"To start, we will take audio cues so as you talk your face will animate. You’ll also have animations that bring additional expressivity to the avatars. Your hands will move," explained Katie Kelly, a Microsoft Project Manager working on Mesh for Teams.
“There will be a feeling of presence even though it’s as simple as being able to take your audio and manifest that as facial expressions. That’s the first release.”
“The ambition is to closely follow that with Microsoft’s plethora of AI technologies so that we can use the camera to insinuate where your mouth is and mimic your head and facial movements.”
During Teams meetings, users will be able to have their avatars appear in their meeting window, in addition to the existing options of having their video on or off with their initials appearing instead. This, according to Microsoft, allows users to feel as though they are present in the conference without being physically observed.
Mesh was developed by Microsoft in collaboration with Accenture, a large IT firm. The Nth Floor is a perpetual, virtual area meant as an additional floor in an office that employees can dip in and out of without physically being there, according to the duo.
Accenture also used Mesh to onboard new employees in a virtual environment called One Accenture Park, which the company characterizes as a "theme park-like" environment. During their inductions, tens of thousands of employees visited the virtual space, according to the company.
Long-term, the goal is for businesses to be able to establish their own persistent virtual locations in the metaverse from within Teams, eventually creating a metaverse of digital twins of people and places that allows for more immersive experiences when teams can't meet physically.
Loop, an office app for helping workers stay on top of projectS
Microsoft recently announced at its online-only Ignite conference that it will release Loop, a new Office tool that will allow individuals to collaborate on projects.
Word and Excel are already included in Microsoft's Office subscription bundles, allowing customers to collaborate on text documents and spreadsheets. Additionally, the SharePoint application provides workers with online hubs where they may retrieve crucial files. Loop offers a modern alternative, which is crucial because Microsoft's core productivity software is increasingly being challenged by well-funded start-ups like Airtable, Coda, and Notion, which aren't hampered by proprietary file formats.
These organizations' new productivity software can manage content creation, but it lacks communication, according to Microsoft executive vice president Jared Spataro. In Teams text chats, workers can share Loop pieces. Users may immediately discuss Loop projects by launching phone or video conversations in Teams, which has grown to over 250 million monthly active users since the launch of Covid-19, according to him.
Spataro believes that the mix of communication and creation is better suited to hybrid work setups, when not everyone is in the same physical place. This is critical given that the pandemic has compelled many companies to use remote work on a larger scale. Webex from Cisco, Slack from Salesforce, and Zoom from Zoom have all created enhancements to better support hybrid work.