At Build 2016, Microsoft has said that they are focusing on Windows 10, bots, developer tools this year, except Windows Phone. It’s just a lower priority to the platform and should not be taken as a lack of confidence on part of the company at the moment.
“We’re going to do some cool things with phones, but this year phones are an important part of our family but not the tip of the spear,” said Microsoft’s Windows and Devices head Terry Myerson at Build 2016 event.
Microsoft never received the kind of response it had hoped for in the highly lucrative mobile segment, the blame for which has been placed almost entirely on Windows Phone OS. In fact, things have only gone from bad to worse. Windows Phone has been losing market share steadily with sales plummeting to a record low at just 4.5 million units in the last quarter of 2015, which again makes for a 57 percent drop from the 10.5 million handsets sold in the last quarter of 2014. In contrast, Android and iOS sales have been in billions during the same period.
Whether Windows Phone makes a grand comeback a year down the line is something that remains to be seen though Microsoft seems to have hit upon something more interesting in between. And, bots is definitely one of them.
Described as a smart and intelligent application that the user can chat to, Build 2016 also marked the launch of the Microsoft Bot Framework that will enable developers to build their own bots. Microsoft is visualising a scenario where a bot will have cross-app abilities and will operate within the realm of other apps such as Skype, Telegram or Slack and help users to accomplish tasks that otherwise would require human intervention. For instance, bots can order pizzas or book a taxi on their own for the user.
“We want every developer to be able to build bots as the new application for every business and every service,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. “We want all developers to be able to infuse intelligence into their applications.”
Microsoft also showed off a chatbot they designed for Dominos, which can replace the standard web ordering form that user rely on to order a pizza. Instead, users will have a conversational interface where a user can speak what they want and have the order delivered.
Microsoft has also shown off an even more powerful Cortana personal assistant endowed with Artificial Intelligence abilities. The new Cortana will be part of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update due out in summer. Microsoft also added the new Cortana will be drawing on the abilities of bot to reach out to other apps to fetch the info that the user might have requested. Of course developers or maybe even users will have their say on determining how much each app is able to share information with the bot or among each other, although the interlinking itself makes for an interesting scenario.
Among other improvements being meted out to Cortana include its debut at Xbox One where it can search titles or suggest tips and tricks. Cortana will also have a better sense of time which includes its ability to know the shops visited during a particular time or suggest setting calendar appointments or reminders based on the email and text messages received.
Developers too have a lot to take away from the Build 2016 event, with Microsoft’s Xamarin acquisition being at the center of it all. Not surprisingly, it is just a matter of time before Xamarin is integrated with Microsoft’s Visual Studio Community edition. Xamarin already offered the Xamarin.Android and Xamarin.iOS plugins that allowed developing native Android, iOS, and Windows apps in C# with either Visual Studio or Xamarin Studio.
Similarly, Xamarin also offered Visual Studio plugin too though that won’t be necessary now that Visual Studio itself will have Xamarin built into it.
Lastly, Microsoft also took to the stage with another demonstration of the kind of stuff its HoloLens can pull off. That included the HoloLens app Galaxy Explorer, which filled the stage with holograms of planets and celestial bodies, which makes for almost science fiction kind of stuff. Microsoft also released the source code of the app for developers to refer to while designing their own apps.