In addition to the changes in format, Microsoft, like just about every other company, has been forced to pivot its messaging to suit the times. Sure, Build will still consist primarily of complex techno-speak aimed at the developer audience. But for the layperson, it also serves as a useful glimpse into how one of the biggest companies on the planet plans to address the changing needs of its customers.Ben Bajarin, principal analyst at market research firm Creative Strategies, says that the big challenge for software companies responding to the coronavirus pandemic is finding ways to handle immediate demand. For example, usage of Microsoft Teams has skyrocketed 70 percent since shelter-in-place orders began, to 75 million active users. It was an unprecedented jump that the company suddenly had to deal with.“The growing demand and the load on their servers was priority number one,” Bajarin says. “Everything else just sort of went on the back burner until they knew they could handle the load of, in some cases, tens of millions of new customers almost overnight.”
While it's not limited to videoconferencing, Teams is gaining ground against Zoom, the current video meet-up heavyweight. (Since its own explosion in growth, Zoom has come under increased scrutiny for its misleading claims about security and user numbers.) Teams, being an enterprise-oriented platform, is more cumbersome than Zoom. But it also benefits from tight integration with Microsoft’s other products, which lets users to work on just about everything in one place.
Not only that it has changed, but that Microsoft has evolved its strategy during a time when some of its top competitors are selling you on software that locks you in—platforms that are so closed that “AOL will feel like a very open world compared to the kind of worlds that both Android and iOS have built,” Nadella says.
“It's really a two-horse race when it comes to kind of those solutions,” Bajarin adds. “And they're battling this out in a kind of head-to-head battle. Each of them have areas to catch up.”Many of Microsoft’s recent software improvements have focused on unifying the user experience. The company wants Teams to be a one-stop shop, with the ability to seamlessly integrate other software—Microsoft-made or otherwise. New enhancements to Teams being announced today include customizable extensions for software apps, tools for building bots that work with Teams, and compatibility with organization apps like Bookings and the new Microsoft Lists. Also new are some advanced tools for sharing live events, so companies can run seminars, global meetings, or conferences of their own entirely within Teams.
By contrast, Microsoft’s bigger, flashier announcements have had to wait. The company recently delayed the release of its two dual-screen devices, the Surface Duo and Surface Neo , as well as its planned dual-screen operating system. Though the company recently launched a collection of consumer PC products , and intends to keep a steady pace for hardware announcements throughout the year, it’s clear that the focus at Build will be on the practical things.
Uber's self-driving cars could be crucial to the company reversing operating losses that topped $3 billion last year. If it works, that self-driving technology might finally lead the ride-hailing company to the kind of profitability its investors—who have sunk more than $22 billion into Uber already—would like to see.
“There's something to be said for incremental innovation,” Bajarin says. “People will appreciate stuff that just makes their life easier.”
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