Microsoft Overhauls Skype In The Camera-Centric Mold Of Snapchat

What Happened
Microsoft released the latest update to its IM and video call app Skype on Thursday that brought a complete overhaul to the app. Most significantly, the revamped app now makes the camera just one swipe away from the chats, encouraging users to snap more pictures to share with each other. The app also added a Highlights section, which functions very similar to the Story feature that was popularized by Snapchat and imitated by Facebook’s messaging platforms.

What Brands Need To Do
It seems unlikely this overhaul alone is enough to put Skype back into competition with the other popular consumer messaging and social apps, given that it has neither the user base or engagement that its competitors have. Last year, Microsoft shared that Skype has 300 million monthly active users when it introduced bots to the chat platform, an initiative that has gained little traction over the past year. In comparison, Facebook Messenger recently hit 1.2 billion monthly users, while Snapchat, an app much younger than Skype, now has over 166 million daily active users.

Nevertheless, this update underlines Microsoft’s intention to bring Skype up to speed in the messaging space and better cater to the shifting consumer preference towards ephemeral sharing. It also points to a larger trend in mobile UX design where the camera start to take the center stage as it increasingly becomes an input source for capturing content and understanding user intent.

For more information on how brands may tap into the rapid development in camera-based mobile AR features to create engaging customer experiences, please check out the Advanced Interfaces section of our Outlook 2017.

 


Source: TechCrunch

Header image courtesy of Skype

Microsoft Unveils New VR Controller For Windows 10

What Happened
On day 2 of its annual Build developer conference, Microsoft unveiled a new set of VR motion controllers for virtual and mixed reality headsets running Windows 10. The controllers will be able to work without external tracking sensors, offering “precise and responsive tracking of movement in your field of view using the sensors in your headset.” The controllers will ship later this year during the holiday season, and they will be bundled with Acer’s upcoming entry-level headset selling for $399. Unfortunately, the controllers will not work with Microsoft HoloLens.

What Brands Need To Do
As with the voice assistant space, Microsoft has a lot catching up to do when it comes to the virtual reality headsets. A recent report from IHS Markit estimates that Samsung will sell 4.1 million Gear VR units by the end of the year. IHS is also estimating that Google has sold 120,000 units through 2016, with 2.3 million selling in 2017. As VR headsets inching closer to breaking into the mainstream market, brands need to be proactive and start working with content creators to explore the immersive medium and create engaging branded content.

How We Can Help
Our dedicated team of VR experts is here to guide marketers through the distribution landscape. We work closely with brands to develop sustainable VR content strategies to promote branded VR and 360 video content across various apps and platforms. With our proprietary technology stack powered by a combination of best-in-class VR partners and backed by the media fire-power of IPG Mediabrands, we offer customized solutions for distributing and measuring branded VR content that truly enhance brand messaging and contribute to the campaign objectives.

If you’d like to learn more about how the Lab can help you tap into the immersive power of VR content to engage with customers, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Barrett (samantha@ipglab.com) to schedule a visit to the Lab.

 


Source: CNET

Microsoft Launches Cortana Skill Kit In Public Preview

What Happened
After over a month of delay, Microsoft finally launched the Cortana Skills Kit in a public preview earlier today at its 2017 Build developer conference. This SDK will allow third-party developers to build new skills or convert conversational experiences from the ones made for Amazon’s Alexa or Microsoft’s new Bot Framework. In addition, the company also announced that it is working with HP and Intel to create Cortana-powered smart speakers and other smart home devices.

At its Build event, Microsoft also shared some usage statistics on its products. According to the company, its latest operating system Windows 10, which ships with Cortana embedded, is now active on 500 million devices worldwide, while Cortana currently enjoys 141 million monthly active users. There are currently 130,000 developers using its Bot Framework, a sizeable increase from the 46,000 developers it had in September.

What Brands Need To Do
Being a bit late to the party, Microsoft has a long way to go to catch up with Amazon and Google, but this SDK launch is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. (Alexa, currently leading the race of digital voice assistants, now has over 10,000 third-party skills available.) As voice-based personal assistants like Alexa and Cortana continue to take over as the default interactive layer of smart home devices, brands wishing to tap into the marketing potential of the smart home devices will have to keep a close eye on this development.

How We Can Help
The Lab has extensive experience in building Alexa Skills and chatbots to reach consumers on conversational interfaces. So much so that we’ve built a dedicated conversational practice called Dialogue. The “Miller Time” Alexa Skill we developed with Drizly for Miller Lite is a good example of how Dialogue can help brands build a conversational customer experience, supercharged by our stack of technology partners with best-in-class solutions and an insights engine that extracts business intelligence from conversational data.

If you’d like to learn more about how to effectively reach consumers on conversational interfaces, or to leverage the Lab’s expertise to take on related client opportunities within the IPG Mediabrands, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Barrett (samantha@ipglab.com) to schedule a visit to the Lab.

 


Source: Engadget & Axios

Microsoft Aims To Turn Windows 10 PCs Into Echo Competitors

What Happened
Microsoft is planning to turn personal computers running Windows 10 into always-on smart speakers with a new HomeHub feature, as the company aims to find a better way to compete with devices like Amazon Echo. First previewed in December, HomeHub is designed to turn a PC into an always-listening device that users can activate Cortana via voice from the lockscreen to provide useful information. Microsoft is also planning to support smart home devices like Philips’ Hue lights, to enable Windows 10 PCs to act as a hub to control and manage smart home hardware.

What Brands Need To Do
Microsoft has been playing catch-up in the smart home device space, and this move should encourage some Windows users to use Cortana more frequently and become familiarized with the voice-activated smart home experience. The company has also worked with Harman Kardon to create an Invoke smart speaker that evokes Amazon Echo’s sleek cylinder design. As voice-based personal assistants like Alexa and Cortana continue to take over as the default interactive layer of smart home devices, brands wishing to tap into the marketing potential of the smart home devices will have to keep a close eye on this development.

 


Source: The Verge

 

Microsoft Tests Chatbot Integration In Bing Search Results

What Happened
Microsoft is planning to add chatbots to the search results on Bing.com to drive conversations. The company has been testing this integration in Seattle. Local users near the Redmond, Washington Microsoft headquarters began to see a bot button in search results for local restaurants, prompting them to learn more about the restaurants via a chatbot.

What Brands Need To Do
Putting chatbots into local search results is a great way to allow customers to quickly connect with businesses for additional information or making reservations. This replaces the need to call the restaurants, thus relieving the workload in customer service for the local businesses. A recent study found that most consumers now prefer to use messaging to interact with businesses rather than calling. As Twitter continues to make its platform more brand-friendly with new messaging features, we expect to see more brands utilize the tools to provide better customer service.

How We Can Help
The Lab has extensive knowledge about reaching consumers on mobile messaging apps and building branded chatbots. The NiroBot we build in collaboration with Ansible for Kia delivers comprehensive product information about the all-new Niro model via friendly chats. If you’re interested in reaching your audience on messaging apps and better serving them with a chatbot, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Barrett (samantha@ipglab.com) for more information or to schedule a visit to the Lab.

 


Source: VentureBeat

Microsoft Brings Augmented Reality Feature To Windows 10

What Happened
If you think augmented reality is something that has to be experienced with pricey smart glasses, think again. Microsoft is integrating an augmented reality viewer in Windows 10 later this year, which will allow WIndows users to interact with 3D objects that are created in 3D Paint against the real world via live video captured by a webcam. This feature is announced on Tuesday during Microsoft’s education-focused Windows event in New York City, where the company ran a demo showing how 3D objects can be displayed on a tablet via an AR viewer.

What Brands Need To Do
Championed by major tech players such as Snap and Facebook, augmented reality is quickly gaining momentum as the next frontier for digital interactions. Microsoft also has a solid lead in AR with its HoloLens headsets, which the Lab has one ready for demo. Bringing AR to laptops should help further propel adoption. Even though we are still in early stages of AR development, brands looking to stay ahead of the curve need to start thinking about how your brand may leverage AR to engage with consumers and offer extra value. For a CPG brand, that could be surfacing additional AR content via smart packaging, whereas an autobrand may leverage AR to enhance the test drive experience at dealerships.


Source: Engadget

 

Microsoft Launches Teams With Bot Integration To Take On Slack

What Happened
Microsoft has officially launched Teams to take on other enterprise chat apps such as Slack and Hipchat. The app is now available on iOS and Android smartphones and also downloadable for desktop devices running Windows and Mac. At launch, Microsoft Teams comes with about a dozen chatbots, most of which are also available on Slack.

Among the usual suspects, there is the Polly bot for conducting a quick poll among coworkers, the Statsbot for pulling data and reports from sources like Google Analytics and Salesforce, a Zenefits bot for managing vacation days, and a Kayak bot for checking flight information, all without leaving Teams. Microsoft says around 150 integrations with software and service are planned and will be added to Teams over the rest of the year.

What Brands Need To Do
The rise of workplace chat apps, influenced by the mass adoption of messaging apps as the primary communication channel on mobile, is quickly changing the way people communicate at work or in other professional contexts. They also offer brands a valuable inroad to reach customers at work and provide value. As they continue to overtake email as the primary communication tool at work and blur the line between private and professional communications, it is important that brands take the initiative to come up with a chatbot strategy to more effectively reach their customers via conversational interactions.

How We Can Help
The Lab has extensive experience in building Alexa Skills and chatbots to reach consumers on conversational interfaces. So much so that we’ve built a dedicated conversational practice called Dialogue. The NiroBot we built in collaboration with Ansible for Kia is a good example of how Dialogue can help brands build a conversational customer experience, supercharged by our stack of technology partners with best-in-class solutions and an insights engine that extracts business intelligence from conversational data.

If you’d like to learn more about how to effectively reach consumers on conversational interfaces, or to leverage the Lab’s expertise to take on related client opportunities within the IPG Mediabrands, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland (samantha@ipglab.com) to schedule a visit to the Lab.

 


Source: VentureBeat

Header image courtesy of Microsoft Team’s website

Microsoft Working With Third-Party Manufacturers To Make Echo Competitors

What Happened
Microsoft is looking to take on the likes of Amazon Echo and Google Home as the company announced on Tuesday it is releasing a Cortana Devices SDK to allow third-party OEMs to integrate its digital assistant service into hardware devices such as speakers, smart home appliances, and even connected cars. Smart devices integrated with Cortana will have “real-time, two-way audio communications with Skype, e-mail, calendar, and list integration,” according to Microsoft. The first of such conversational devices will be a Cortana-enabled speaker made by Harman Kardon set to launch in early 2017.

What Brands Should Do
This announcement indicates Microsoft’s third party-sourcing strategy in competing with Amazon and Google in the conversational service space, which should help push Cortana into more products. As the tech giants continue to push their respective conversational services into the consumer market, more and more mainstream consumers will soon become reachable via these voice-based devices. Brands that wish to stay ahead of the digital curve should start exploring opportunities in building advanced applications for these emerging platforms with highly engaging conversational user experiences.

How We Can Help
The Lab has extensive experience in building Alexa Skills and chatbots to reach consumers on conversational interfaces. So much so that we’ve built a dedicated conversational practice called Dialogue. The NiroBot we built in collaboration with Ansible for Kia is a good example of how Dialogue can help brands build a conversational customer experience supercharged by our stack of technology partners with best-in-class solutions and an insights engine that extracts business intelligence from conversational data.

If you’d like to learn more about how to effectively reach consumers on messaging apps and other conversational interfaces, or to leverage the Lab’s expertise to take on related client and learning opportunities within the IPG Mediabrands, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland (samantha@ipglab.com) to schedule a visit to the Lab.

 


Source: Ars Technica

Microsoft To Release Standalone VR Headsets That Start At $299

What Happened
Microsoft unveiled a series of new hardware products at its press event in New York City earlier today, and one particular announcement caught our eye. The company has so far been absent in the booming virtual reality field, focusing its energy on mixed reality championed by its HoloLens instead. That changes today as the Mountain View-based company announced that it is working with several manufacturer partners that so far include Dell, HP, Lenovo, Asus, and Acer to release several standalone, Windows 10-compatible VR headsets starting at $299. Microsoft also showcased a ‘HoloTour’ VR app which takes users on Street View-like virtual tours around the world.

What Brands Should Do
At the moment, most VR headsets are tethered to desktop or mobile devices, so it will be interesting to see how powerful Microsoft’s standalone VR headsets will be. With consumers becoming increasingly familiar with VR and now Microsoft reading to push affordable VR headsets into the mainstream consumer market, brands that wish to stay ahead of the curve should start working with content creators to develop engaging branded VR content.

The Lab currently has four VR headsets — an Oculus Rift, an HTC Vive, and two Samsung Gear VRs — ready for demos. Virtual reality is something that has to be experienced to be understood, so come by the Lab and ask for a VR demo to get a hands-on experience and figure out how your brand can use it to excite and engage with consumers.

 


Source: The Verge

Skype Adds Chatbots To Help You Book Flights And Event Tickets

What Happened
Skype has added a slew of chatbots as its parent company Microsoft continues to build out the bot platform it launched in April. The new bots include ones from travel booking services Skyscanner and Hipmunk that aim to help you find flight and hotel information and one created by StubHub to search for event tickets. There is also an IFTTT bot that can pull in information from other apps and services into your Skype chat.

What Brands Need To Do
While these bots are fairly functional in completing search inquiries and presenting the results, they are a long way from the ideal case where the bot actually completes the booking process within the chat. Nevertheless, this is a necessary step for Skype to build out its bot inventory and stay competitive to other bot-supporting chat platforms. Brands should consider developing bots to reach customers on messaging apps that are popular among mobile users, as branded bots are poised to become a crucial tool for brands.

The Lab has extensive knowledge about building chatbots. If you’re interested in reaching your audience on messaging apps and better serving them with a chatbot, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland (samantha@ipglab.com) for more information or to schedule a visit to the Lab.

 


Source: TechCrunch