Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) recently held its annual two-day Build conference on May 7 and 8, and it revealed a lot of information about its long-term plans. Let's take a closer look at the six most interesting revelations from Build 2018.
1. Cortana talks to Alexa
Last August, Microsoft announced that Cortana would work with Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Alexa. Microsoft and Amazon representatives finally showcased that integration, which remains in a limited beta, at the conference.
The integration isn't seamless -- a user needs to tell Alexa to "open Cortana," or tell Cortana to "open Alexa" to access the other virtual assistant. But once the assistant is accessed, it functions normally.
This could be a win-win situation for both companies -- Amazon adds Microsoft's productivity services to Alexa's skill set, while Microsoft gains the support of Amazon's Prime and e-commerce ecosystems.
2. Tethering iOS and Android devices to Windows 10
Microsoft's biggest mistake in the past decade was losing the mobile device market to Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android. However, CEO Satya Nadella's strategy of launching Microsoft apps on iOS and Android kept the company relevant in the mobile market without a dominant OS.
Microsoft is now taking that strategy a step further with Your Phone, a new Windows 10 app that mirrors a user's text messages, photos, and mobile notifications from iOS and Android devices on a PC.
Microsoft will also sync Windows 10's Timeline, which tracks a history of all the apps which have been used, with iOS (via a tab on the Edge browser) and Android (as part of the Microsoft Launcher). That integration could let users seamlessly jump between iOS, Android, and Windows 10 versions of the same app.
3. More money, more developers?
A lack of developers was one of the main reasons Microsoft lost the mobile market to Apple and Google. Microsoft attracted more developers with the shift to Windows 10, but the 669,000 apps in its Windows Store still pale in comparison to Apple's App Store and Google Play -- which held 2.2 million and 2.8 million apps, respectively, last year.
Microsoft plans to narrow that gap by reducing its cut of app revenues from 30% -- which Apple and Google charge -- to just 5% for consumer apps. Games are excluded from that change, and Microsoft takes a higher cut if it helps promote the app, but it's still a significant change that might attract more developers.
4. Kinect lives on... in the cloud
Between 2015 and 2017, Microsoft's Kinect motion sensor was discontinued on Windows, the Xbox 360, and the Xbox One, marking a disappointing end to one of the company's most revolutionary devices.
But at Build 2018, Microsoft revealed that it would turn Kinect into a cloud service for remotely processing data for developers' cameras and depth sensors. This could allow companies to produce Kinect-like cameras for a wider range of devices, and help Microsoft remain invested in this computer vision market.
5. Another glimpse at HoloLens
Microsoft unveiled its "mixed reality" headset HoloLens in 2015, but it hasn't revealed any plans to launch a consumer version yet. But at Build 2018, Microsoft introduced a new program called Microsoft Layout, which will let users design real spaces in either HoloLens or a third-party Windows Mixed Reality VR headset.
The program enables users to create virtual spaces in a headset, then project the layout in augmented reality onto a real physical location. This innovative feature could change how designers and engineers visualize interior designs and architecture.
6. Windows 10 for drones
Lastly, Microsoft partnered with DJI Innovations, the top drone maker in the world, to build a new drone SDK for Windows 10. The SDK will enable Windows 10 users to fully control DJI's drones and access their data, and make it easier to integrate third-party hardware to make custom drones.
As part of that partnership, DJI will use Microsoft's Azure as its preferred cloud provider for commercial solutions, and access Microsoft's AI services to analyze images and videos for enterprise customers.
The bottom line
Microsoft's message is clear -- it remains firmly committed to Nadella's "mobile first, cloud first" strategy, and is establishing footholds in next-gen markets like computer vision, mixed reality, and drones. Unlike former CEO Steve Ballmer's Microsoft, which fell behind crucial tech shifts in the mobile and cloud markets, Nadella's Microsoft is wisely focused on long-term technological shifts.