Microsoft (MSFT) gave the world a glimpse into what it’s been working on for the past year and its vision for the future during its annual Build Developers Conference in Seattle on Monday. And while the company might be known for its Windows operating system, it’s telling that the first day of the two-day event focused heavily on Microsoft’s cloud and artificial intelligence efforts.
From adding the ability to see smartphone notifications on your Windows PC to using AI to improve accessibility for the hearing and visually impaired, Microsoft gave us a ton of interesting news. Here are the most important highlights.
Connecting Windows and your phone
Microsoft’s Windows Phone is ancient history, but that doesn’t mean the company is completely out of the mobile space. The company’s new Your Phone app will allow you to get your smartphone notifications including text messages on your PC, and drag and drop files across devices. Microsoft hasn’t provided many details on this, but it seems relatively similar to a mix between the new Nearby Sharing and the Continue on PC function from the company’s new Windows 10 April 2018 update.
The thing about Continue on PC is that you need to use Microsoft’s own apps for it to work. In other words, you need to use the Edge app on your iPhone or Android device. That might be a tough sell for most users, especially since Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Chrome dominates the mobile browsing market.
Still, we’ll see how Your Phone manages these features.
Cortana is teaming up with Alexa
Microsoft’s Cortana voice assistant is in every Window 10 device on the planet, which makes it strange that it’s not nearly as popular as Amazon’s (AMZN) Alexa. It doesn’t help that if you’re an Alexa user and want to try Cortana, you’ll end up needing to talk to two different voice assistants.
To address that, Microsoft announced that Cortana will finally work with Alexa and vice versa. During a stage demo, Microsoft showed how you can ask your Alexa-powered Echo speaker to access Office applications. Similarly, the company demonstrated how you’ll be able to open Alexa through Cortana on your PC, so you’ll be able to lower your thermostat from your computer.
These features are only available as part of a small beta, but should reach the wider market in the future.
Bring in the drones
Microsoft also announced that it’s taking to the air with its new partnership with drone maker DJI. The collaboration will allow developers to create applications that let you control DJI’s drones from Windows 10 PCs.
The partnership will also allow for the kind of device integrations that could let farmers more accurately track the conditions of their crops and livestock via aerial imaging and ground-based sensors.
Microsoft and DJI say the pairing could also be used with construction projects and public safety initiatives.
Finally, Microsoft explained how it will use AI and its deep pockets to help bring about new technologies to improve accessibility for people living with everything from visual impairments to autism. Microsoft says it will provide seed grants to developers, universities, NGOs and other investors seeking to use artificial intelligence to assist people with disabilities.
If the grant recipients’ projects prove useful, Microsoft will provide additional funding and help “bring them to scale.”
Such technologies could include providing the blind with features that can read the web for users, real-time captioning for the deaf and software that turns spoken phrases into images to help those with autism better understand conversations.
Microsoft is sure to announce more news related to Windows 10 during the second day of the conference, so stay tuned.
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