Microsoft Teams , the companys team collaboration software and challenger to Slack, announced this morning — on its first anniversary — a suite of new features that will roll out to the software throughout 2018. This includes features that will allow users to record, transcribe and save meetings to the cloud, integrations with voice assistant Cortana, inline message translation and several others. The added integration with Cortanas voice assistance could give Microsoft an edge in its battle with Slack, given the increasing importance of voice-based computing in the workplace and within business productivity applications. Microsoft and Amazon announced last year their voice assistants, Cortana and Alexa, would work together, for example. Meanwhile, companies — including Microsoft — have been working to make their applications and services work well with voice assistants given the potential of voice computing in the workplace. According to Microsoft, Cortana voice integrations for Teams-enabled devices will launch later this year, allowing users to easily make a call, join a meeting or add people to meetings using natural, spoken language. Whats more, these voice capabilities will extend to IP phones and conference room devices, as well. This feature alone could be a big selling point for Microsoft Teams, but its one of several the company announced are in the works. Also coming in 2018 is cloud recording — another that takes advantages of advances in voice technology in recent years. Microsoft Teams will be able to record meetings with a click, then create an automatic transcription of what was said. Meeting attendees can choose to play back the meeting in full, or just a key part, using the transcription as reference. This feature will also be advanced in the future to include facial recognition, so meeting remarks can be properly attributed. Meeting transcription is an area other startups are working in, as well. For example, recently launched Otter is offering an automatic transcription tool for meetings, as is Voicera, which just landed $20 million for its automated note-taking assistant. (It wouldnt be surprising to see Slack snatch up a company like this in the future, to help it compete by way of native voice and transcription features.) Microsoft is also promising inline messaging translations between languages in channels and chat; a background blur option for video calls (great for meetings from home offices); proximity detection for adding available Skype Room Systems to meetings; and mobile sharing in meetings. This last item will allow attendees to share a live video stream, photo or screen share from their mobile device. In addition to the planned features, Microsoft announced new enterprise-grade calling features arriving today, including consultative transfer and call delegation and federation. Its also now rolling out Direct Routing, which allows customers to integrate existing telephony infrastructure with Teams for calling. Related to this, Teams is also now enabled across meeting room devices, including Microsoft Surface Hub; devices from new partners Lenovo and HP (which join Logitech, Crestron and Polycom); Skype Room Systems; new solutions from BlueJeans, Pexip and Polycom that will connect with Teams; new desk phones from AudioCodes and Yealink and new conference room phones from Crestron, Polycom and Yealink, all of which will run a native Teams app; and new mobile phone stations from Plantronics. Microsoft today gave an update on Teams traction, given its now been a year since its worldwide debut. There are today 200,000 organizations in 181 markets and 39 languages on Teams, including A.P. Moller-Maersk, ConocoPhillips, Macys, NASCAR, Navistar, RLH Corporation and Technicolor and, as of another announcement today, General Motors. By comparison, Slack reports 9 million weekly active users across 50,000+ paying companies in over 100 countries, according to stats on its website. It said in September it had grown to more than 6 million daily users, as well.
For Teams' first anniversary, Microsoft is putting the heat on Slack. Teams just turned one, and for its anniversary, Microsoft has unveiled new professional features for it that go well beyond what rivals like Slack offer. Probably the most important ones for enterprises are compatibility with their existing telephone systems, automatic in-line translation, Surface Hub support, and the ability for participants to dial in with regular telephones. Microsoft says that its new Direct Routing service will transform Teams into a "full voice service" that works for both calling and meeting room devices. For instance, "Microsoft Teams will be natively supported on a Surface Hub (above), enhancing the capabilities of Teams in huddle spaces and meeting rooms," the software giant said. Team Meetings will also support audio and HD video conference room systems from Lenovo, HP, Logitech and others, along with any Skype Room systems. Microsoft's AI has also made it easier to initiate and participate in Teams chats. You can now start, join or add people to meetings by giving natural language voice commands to Cortana, for one. If participants that speak different languages join in, Teams will support in-line message translation to let them "fluidly communicate with one another by translating posts in channels and chat." Another interesting feature is background blur on video. To help participants see you more clearly, the system will blur out a distracting background, putting the focus of the video on you rather than any clutter behind. It'll also let you share a live video stream, photos or screens from your smartphone. Finally, Microsoft will soon enable one-click cloud recording, with timecoding and automatic transcription. That'll let team members search within conversations, read captions and play back portions or all of a meeting. A future upgrade will include facial recognition so that comments can be assigned to specific individuals. With its relative simplicity, Slack will always have its place, but Microsoft is targeting large enterprises that already have its apps in-house. The ability to use Teams as an full in-house meeting system, even if participants don't have access to a computer or internet, will no doubt make it a lot more useful for companies. The enterprise calling features are set to arrive in Q2 of 2018, and the other features, like Cloud Recording and in-line translation, will arrive later in the year.