Microsoft ships expanded Microsoft Teams for consumers
Microsoft wants to make Microsoft 365 as valuable as possible with these new AI-powered features.
By Mark Hachman
PCWorldJun 22, 2020 1:23 pm PDT
Office 365 is dead. Long live Microsoft 365, the renamed version of Microsoft’s productivity suite that now includes an expanded version of Microsoft Teams designed expressly for consumers. That expanded version of Teams is now live in preview for iOS and Android, Microsoft said on June 22.
(Editor’s Note: This story originally published on March 30. We’re re-publishing it as the changes to the subscriptions have taken effect today, June 22.)
On April 21, Office 365 subscriptions for consumers will shift over to become Microsoft 365 subscriptions, Microsoft said, available at the current price of $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year for a shared group of up to 6 people. (Personal subscriptions are $6.99 per user per month, or $69.99 per year.) Those subscriptions will still include features like a terabyte of OneDrive cloud storage, access to Microsoft’s Office apps, and more.
What’s new, though, is a version—some might call it an expansion—of Microsoft Teams that’s been retooled for consumers, with group chat, file sharing, and more—all features available on the enterprise version of Teams, but overhauled in a friendlier interface. Late in March, Microsoft also announced a new Microsoft Family Safety app designed to help parents keep track of their kids in the real world. Finally, Microsoft showed off new features within Office—some of which had already been announced—that tap into AI to improve its capabilities for writing within Word, scheduling within Excel, and more.
Microsoft Teams for Home
Microsoft’s Microsoft Teams has become a dominant corporate collaborative app because of Microsoft’s relationship with large enterprises, but it faces a sharper challenge competing with dozens of consumer messaging apps that allow friends to connect with one another. Interestingly, while Microsoft is rebranding Office, the only rebranding of the new consumer Teams experience was in the URL attached to the page, which was dubbed Teams for Home. Officially, though, it’s just Teams. And did we mention that this new Teams app is just for Android and iOS at the moment?
As with the enterprise version of Teams, Microsoft has collected several collaborative features under the overarching Teams umbrella. The centralized feature is a group chat, which can be shared among multiple people—Microsoft doesn’t actually say how many, or whether all users have to subscribe to Teams. Alternatively, there’s a “dashboard” view that can be used as a jumping-off point to have more detailed conversations, such as a direct phone call.
Users can share their personal calendars or grocery lists, assign tasks to one another, and more. You could even track the locations of other members of their group, with their permission. Files can be stored even more securely via a “vault.”
Microsoft’s also promising that you’ll be able to switch easily between work and personal accounts. That’s noteworthy, possibly, because the current incarnation of Cortana that Microsoft is showing off within its Windows 10 “20H1” update hasn’t done the same.
Teams will launch in preview this summer for phones, Microsoft said, with an official launch scheduled for later this fall.
Perhaps in recognition that Microsoft’s Skype may have stumbled and let Zoom take over as the default consumer video app, Microsoft highlighted Skype Meet Now, a way to set a video meeting in Skype in just three clicks, without the need to download anything or even sign up for the service,
Microsoft’s new Family Safety app repurposes some of the family-management tools that Microsoft already has in place, including the ability for a parent to monitor your kids’ screen time, and track where they go on the web. They’re buried within the Microsoft Account website, however. Family Safety thrusts them front and center in an upcoming app. There are some new features, too, shared with the consumer revamp of Teams.
Like the Your Family heading under the Microsoft account page, users will be able to monitor screen time for their kids across the Xbox and Windows, set limits, and control which sites, apps, and games kids will be able to access. Content filters can be set by age, if a website or game has enabled them.
Although Microsoft acknowledges that not leaving the house right now is “the new normal,” the Family Safety app also was built for the assumption that we’ll one day return to work and school. Assuming the child opts in to sharing location information—left up to the child—parents can receive a notification when the child has left school.
This “geofencing” capability will even be applied to student drivers. Both the parent and the driver will have access to detailed insights that will help them understand driving behavior and improve some of their habits on the road: their top speed, where they’ve gone, and even the times that they’ve picked up their phone or rapidly accelerated, executives said.
New AI capabilities for Office
Otherwise, Microsoft highlighted new and existing capabilities that will appear in Office apps over the next few months, including improved connection to personal accounts within Outlook, and the revival of sorts of Microsoft Money.
A small but extremely timely feature will be tighter integration between home and business accounts within Outlook and Calendar. What was especially interesting was a feature Microsoft showed off where consumers could search for schools by area code, than drill down by name—and after that, integrate the school’s public calendar with the users’ own. That’s especially useful at times like now, when students don’t know how long they’ll be asked to remain home, and when they’ll return. It also will allow work colleagues to see when others have blocked out time for personal appointments.
Microsoft didn’t say when the new Outlook features will arrive. In the coming months, however, Microsoft will launch “Money in Excel,” a new feature that uses Excel’s expertise in integrating data sources to pull your spending into a single spreadsheet.
It’s a change from Microsoft’s stance in 2009, when the company discontinued Microsoft Money because of the competition banks themselves offered. “With banks, brokerage firms and Web sites now providing a range of options for managing personal finances, the consumer need for Microsoft Money Plus has changed,” the company said at the time.
Now, Microsoft’s making a play for Excel to serve as a focal point for you to manage your money, including connecting to your bank and credit card accounts. Money will import transactions and account balances automatically, offer insights on how much you’re spending on categories like groceries each month, and even issue proactive alerts about price changes for recurring payments, bank fees, overdraft warnings, and more, Microsoft said.
Otherwise, Microsoft highlighted and expanded on a few features that it’s already added to Office. One of those is Presenter Coach, a feature already within PowerPoint that provides feedback on how many times you’ve said “filler” words like “ah” or “um.” Presenter Coach will now listen to your tone of voice and let you know if you’re speaking in a monotone, and a separate “speech refinement” feature will offer suggestions on how better to phrase your speech. These new Presenter Coach features will be available to everyone through a free preview, and then eventually only to Microsoft 365 subscribers, Microsoft said.
Microsoft’s also making AI tools available to writers. Microsoft will publish a new Microsoft Editor extension for Edge and Chrome in the coming weeks, Microsoft said, which will provide suggestions on style, clarity, inclusive language, and more for browser-based writing on Medium, Facebook and more.
Microsoft’s also retooling what’s currently called “Ideas in Word” and renaming it “Editor in Word.” The Editor section includes two big additions: a “similarity checker” that intelligently scans your document for similarities to published sources, and then allows users to publish citations. A “rewrite suggestions” option will also be available; this AI editor suggests ways to retool your writing to make it clearer. Both of these options, however, will only be available to Word for the Web.
Microsoft’s applying similar tools to Outlook.com and Outlook on the Web, but there’s a catch: Editor’s spelling and grammar capabilities will be offered for free to Outlook.com users, while more advanced style-oriented capabilities will be extended exclusively to Microsoft 365 subscribers.
Over time, it’s possible we’ll see more of this trend: a “taste” of Microsoft’s new AI capabilities will be offered to users, with more value-added features offered to Microsoft 365 users. That, of course, is the overarching goal: to sign you up for a recurring Microsoft subscription.