Microsoft is adding more AI smarts and other new tools to Office

Microsoft is adding more predictive capabilities to Office via a set of new capabilities called Context IQ.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft's new Loop collaboration app and components isn't the only new thing coming to Office. At its Ignite IT pro conference this week, Microsoft officials also highlighted other tools and capabilities coming to Office.

Microsoft is introducing what it calls a "set of natively integrated AI experiences" across Microsoft 365 that will go beyond the current AI capabilities already baked into some Office apps. These new AI experiences are branded "Context IQ." The first product that will get the Context IQ treatment is Microsoft Editor, which corrects grammar and spelling across documents, email, and the web. Context IQ will add predictive assistance to Editor.

Via Context IQ, users will be prompted in Editor to consider certain files or documents when attaching or sharing files with colleagues. When users are scheduling meetings in Outlook email, Editor with Contex IQ will recommend times when participants are available. And when users tag someone using the @ symbol in a comment or email, Editor with Contex IQ will recommend specific people to tag based on people users most recently have interacted with or previously tagged. Editor with Context IQ also will be able to suggest autocompletion of pertinent information, like frequent flyer numbers or specific messages, when in Teams.

Part of Context IQ is similar to the previously announced Cortana-powered capabilities like the Microsoft Scheduler service (formerly Calendar.help). But Context IQ also relies on the Microsoft Graph to figure out relevant connections pertaining to individual users. 

A company spokesperson sent me the following to help clarify how Cortana and Context IQ differ:

"Context IQ and Cortana are unique. Context IQ is an ingredient of our AI capabilities, and Cortana is a product within our Microsoft 365 capabilities. Context IQ defines a set of integrated AI experiences across Microsoft 365 that predicts, seeks, and suggests information people might need in the flow of their work. Context IQ is an element of AI-driven experiences and products like Editor that leverage the power of Context IQ to help you accomplish tasks. 

"You will begin to experience the power of Context IQ in more places within our products, such as Cortana, Scheduler, voice capabilities, and more. Editor is just the beginning of our Context IQ experiences."

Today, Microsoft officials also are announcing some coming additions to its Office.com and lightweight Office app for Windows, which Microsoft first unveiled a couple years ago as the successor to "My Office." (The Office app and Office.com portal are meant to help users quickly switch between their various Office apps and more easily find recently used documents, whether they're stored on a local machine, in OneDrive, or SharePoint.)

Microsoft has redesigned the homepage, so users can quickly get to necessary content in the Quick Access section and see what needs attention with a set of recommended actions. There will be a new My Content page with search and filtering of content from across Teams, Outlook, OneDrive, and SharePoint. And there's a new Create page for all apps and tools, plus templates from multiple applications, viewable at the same time. These new features will begin rolling out in the next few weeks, officials said.

Other new apps and features coming soon to Office:

Teams gets even more features: Teams is getting a variety of new features in the coming weeks and months: Direct Guest Join, which allows users to join Teams meetings from other room systems like Zoom and Cisco (and next year, Bluejeans and GoToMeeting); the ability to manage Surface Hubs in the Teams Admin Center; a virtual green room for presenters using Teams for webinars; and more are all on tap. 

Recording Studio in PowerPoint: This offers a way for users to present to audiences without being either physically or virtually present at the time of the scheduled presentation. Users can record, preview, and re-record a single slide or presentation. This feature is due in early 2022.

Clipchamp. The Clipchamp video creation tool for work, school, and more, is coming to Office. Microsoft recently acquired Clipchamp for an undisclosed amount. I haven't seen information so far on which versions of Office/M365 it will be added to and when this will happen.

Excel gets more data types: Microsoft has added stocks and geography, as well as Power Query data types, to the list of what's supported in Excel. Later this month, Microsoft is introducing a new JavaScript API for Excel (in preview), so developers can create their own custom Excel data types with images, entities, arrays, and more -- backed by their own custom data sources.

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