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Microsoft announces new Teams updates at Ignite 2021


Microsoft has revealed new features and updates for the Teams collaboration app, including security, integrations and events capabilities. The company announced these new updates at its Ignite 2021 conference, a worldwide event that brings together over 100,000 executives to experience the company’s latest and greatest technologies.

The event also gives a sneak peek at upcoming products and services from the company that will be available in the future.

Starting next year, you will be able to join a Microsoft Teams meeting ‘physically’ using a personalized avatar that looks like you. Microsoft is calling this innovation, named Mesh for Teams, and is intended to make online meetings more personal, engaging, and exciting for anyone using anything from basic smartphones and laptops to mixed-reality headsets. 

The first step most users of Mesh for Teams will begin by attending a normal Teams meeting as a personalized avatar of themselves rather than a static image or video. Within Teams, organizations can create immersive places – metaverses. Users of Mesh for Teams can enter these locations with their avatars to socialize, work on projects, and have those fortuitous encounters that stimulate creativity.

According to research dating back to the beginning of virtual working, individuals feel more present and engaged during online meetings when their video is on, but there are dozens of reasons why people leave their cameras off. These explanations range from concerns about privacy and video fatigue to realities like the fact that it’s difficult to multitask when on video and that some people work in their pyjamas on some days but would rather not be called out for it during a late afternoon meeting. 

“Sometimes I just want to be able to sit in my chair downstairs and have my heat pad on, but maybe it’s not that appropriate,” said Katie Kelly, a principal project manager at Microsoft working on Mesh for Teams.  “I’d love to be able to turn on my avatar. I’m still present and engaged, and the people that are there feel like I’m present and engaged.”

With this new update, users will have a variety of options to choose from to create and join a Teams meeting as a unique, personalized avatar. Other attendees might also be represented by avatars, show themselves on video or use a static picture or bubble with initials.

“To start, we will take audio cues so as you talk your face will animate,” Kelly said. “You’ll also have animations that bring additional expressivity to the avatars. Your hands will move. There will be a feeling of presence even though it’s as simple as being able to take your audio and manifest that as facial expressions. That’s the first release. The ambition is to closely follow that with Microsoft’s plethora of AI technologies so that we can use the camera to insinuate where your mouth is and mimic your head and facial movements.”

Mesh for Teams will begin to roll out in preview in the first half of 2022.

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Nixon Kanali

Tech journalist based in Nairobi. I write about tech, business and African startups. Founder and Editor For TechTrendsKE. Nixon is also the East African tech editor for Africa Business Communities. Send tips to nkanali@techtrendske.co.ke.

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