Microsoft to add new shared background, customizable views, chat bubbles and more to Teams

Microsoft is adding a bunch of new features to Teams in the coming weeks and months, some of which are catching up with what's in competitive services, while others are new and different.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is outlining a slew of new features coming to Teams for work and school before the end of calendar 2020. The new features, which Microsoft disclosed via a blog post on July 8, are meant to make chats, meetings, and other collaborations less tiring and more productive.  

Some of these features are available already in Microsoft's Skype service and other, competitive services like Zoom and Slack. But some are new and different, like "Together Mode."

Together Mode will allow participants to appear in a common, shared background. It's designed to make participants feel like they're in the same meeting room or classroom together. Microsoft is using AI segmentation technology to make this happen. Microsoft researcher and VR pioneer Jaron Lanier worked on this feature, Microsoft officials said, and it's meant to help reduce virtual-meeting fatigue and make meetings feel more real. 

Together Mode with "auditorium view" (see image embedded above in this post) is rolling out now and will be generally available in August. Microsoft plans to add other types of views to Together Mode, going forward. 

The new Dynamic View feature for Teams is meant to give users more control over how your meeting experience looks. Microsoft also says this feature relies on AI to "dynamically optimize shared content and video participants. What that means is users can configure how they want to see other meeting participants more easily, such as by large gallery view (rolling out in August, which lets Teams users see up to 49 simultaneous participants) and virtual breakout rooms, which let users split participants into smaller groups. 

New video filters will enable users to adjust lighting levels or soften camera focus before they join meetings. And a "Reflect" messaging extension will let leaders and teachers check in generally with participants or ask about a specific topic. The Reflect extension will be installable from GitHub and be available for IT to deploy inside the Teams Message Extension Menu. This extension will be available "in the coming weeks," Microsoft officials said. 

Teams also is getting live reactions, which will allow participants to react using emojis that will appear to all participants. Live reactions is a feature in PowerPoint Live Presentations -- which is also coming to Teams in the future. This feature helps with audience engagement during presentations. 

Chat bubbles is another new Teams feature on the futures list. Instead of requiring Teams users to manually open chat windows to view chat screens, chats sent during Teams meetings will show up on the surface of the screens of all meeting participants. 

Speaker attribution and translation for live captions and transcripts also is coming. This is meant to clarify to meeting participants who is speaking, what's been said, and who said it. The new Tasks app coming to Teams (which is the new name for the Planner app in Teams) will provide a unified view of tasks from To Do, Planner, and Outlook. Suggested replies in chat also are rolling out this month. 

If you think a 49-person virtual meeting is unwieldy, just wait. Microsoft is going to add support for Teams meetings for up to 1,000 participants. And it also will be adding the ability for up to 20,000 to watch presentations or discussions in Teams as a new type of meeting experience.   

Microsoft is adding new Cortana capabilities to the Teams mobile apps for iOS and Android. Using this functionality, users will be able to make calls, join meetings, send chat messages, and more with just their voice. This feature will be coming to the Teams mobile apps "in the coming weeks" and will e available first for Microsoft 365 Enterprise users in the US in English.

Finally, Microsoft is introducing a new device category, called Microsoft Teams display. Microsoft already certifies Teams-capable IoT and telephony devices, which it calls Teams Room devices. Teams displays are all-in-one dedicated Teams devices with touch and Cortana-powered voice capabilities. (It's kind of like a work version of Amazon Echo Show with security and privacy added, based on Microsoft's description.) Users will be able to join and present in meetings, dictate Teams chat replies, and more via Cortana.

The new displays will integrate with users' PCs. Lenovo is making the first Microsoft Teams display, which is known as the Lenovo ThinkSmart View, according to Microsoft, and Yealink also will be rolling out a similar type of device. Teams displays with Cortana will be available in the US starting later this year.

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