At last night’s Mobile World Conference (MWC) Microsoft didn’t drop a lot of bombs on the public but there were quite a few nuggets throughout the event. They showed a deeper look into Office on Widows 10, highlighted the universal Action Center, demoed features from multiple Microsoft universal apps, and showed us a live demonstration of Cortana jumping between devices. While some may not consider any one of these ground breaking, in usual Microsoft fashion, a solid group of updates and features totals to a much better overall experience. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most noteworthy nuggets.
While the Lumia 930 was not talked about much, it was used for demonstrations of universal map syncing, Cortana working between multiple devices, and running the latest version of Office. What’s noteworthy about this is that all of these features are connected with Windows 10. The technical preview for phones, much to chagrin or users, was not made available to high end devices. Though no release date for the technical preview for the Lumia 930 was announced, it may not be that far off since at least some version of Windows 10 was running on a Lumia 930 during the event.
Sharp eyes noticed a new build of Windows 10 running on some of the machines onstage, build 10027. Will that be the build that Windows Insiders get next? We should soon find out.
Some changes to the action center have already been made available in the technical preview for phones. Most notable is that the action center is now expandable to have three rows of icons. At the MWC Microsoft focused heavily on “seamlessly syncing between devices” and the Action Center was no exception. Neil Broadly from the Lumia Team explained that “The action center back on my PC or tablet stay seamlessly in sync, so I never have to do things twice.” Any other set up would prove to be extremely irritating because responding to messages in one Action Center and still having to clear them in another would get old very quickly.
The big push throughout the event was that Microsoft is focusing on a “mobile experience” rather than focusing on mobile devices. One way they are accomplishing this is through universal applications that sync between multiple devices. One such application is “Maps” which was shown on a Surface device combining reviews, photos, and opening hours of a local restaurant while also offering driving or walking directions. The search for that restaurant which originated on a Surface device synced through the cloud to show up on a Lumia 930.
Another service that will sync between devices on Windows 10 is the personal assistant Cortana. Reminders and favorites saved on one device will show up almost immediately on another device. In the earlier maps example Neil Broadly from the Lumia team favorite the restaurant in maps and the restaurant showed up on Cortana on the desktop. Broadly also showed off how you can set a reminder on a Surface device and have it sync to Cortana, though Cortana may have had stage fright because she heard the time of the appointment wrong.
One of the longest demonstrations during the event was Julia White demonstrating Office on various devices. Some of the features were already known but the demonstration showed them live and also included some newly announced features. The new mobile Outlook has customizable swiping gestures for marking emails as read/unread, moving items, deleting emails, and setting up flags. Replying to messages in the Outlook will also allow you to “reply inline” which White explained lets you add responses within the original message that you are replying to. To show that you edited the original message you can use the full editing ribbon that will be in mobile office applications. All this editing could also be done with the foldable keyboard that Microsoft revealed. Outlook also will combine the calendar and email features into one app to eliminate a need for repeated switching.
Office features that are only available on Windows
A repeated knock on Windows is that they provide so many services in such high quality for other platforms that customers don’t have many incentives to buy Windows devices. One feature that is exclusive to Windows devices, at least for now, is “Tell Me.” Tell Me allows users to type in what they want to do, such as entering a table into a Word document, and have the table inserted for them. White explained that “I can just type in what I want to do… It actually drops in the table. It doesn’t take me to help and how to about the table, it does that for me.”
While the Surface Hub has already been shown off at the January 21st event, it was fun to see another live demonstration of the 84” device. What elicited the most applause from the audience was the natural control of such a powerful device. White picked up the Surface Hub pen and it automatically switched to white board mode. At the end of the demonstration she put it back and it cleared the screen. They also displayed the Surface Hub’s ability to allow multi pen and multi device collaboration. Multiple people can simultaneously write or “ink” on the board using Surface pens or ink from a connected device. In the demonstration one person inked from a personal Surface device while another inked on the massive screen. The markings can be easily shared back and forth through features called “ink back” and “touch back.”
While it wasn't specifically called out in the keynote, the Lumia 640 and 640XL are both shipping with the latest update to Windows Phone 8.1, dubbed GDR2, an interim step to Windows 10 that provides a revamped settings menu, and support for Bluetooth keyboards like Microsoft's new Universal Folding Keyboard (which won't work with Windows Phones running Denim or lower).
Microsoft’s announcements at the MWC weren’t ground breaking but they continue a trend of Microsoft adding solid features and functionality. More serious news will most likely be announced at the upcoming build conference and at various conference throughout the year. You can watch the entire Microsoft segment of the Mobile World Conference right here.