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Microsoft is working on making feature release information for its Microsoft 365 software and services more detailed and organization-specific, thanks to some upcoming changes to its Microsoft 365 Admin Center and Microsoft 365 Roadmap.
Customers often want to know more details about which new features are coming, in what timeframe and how they're being rolled out to tenants and applicable users. With the goal of providing more of these kinds of details, Microsoft is adding feature release status for each new and updated feature in the Message Center in the Microsoft 365 Admin Center so that users can more accurately track feature availability specific to their organizations using a "status for your org" filter.
There are also plans to provide "relevance recommendations" for Message Center posts, so users can more quickly and clearly see which changes will be of high, medium or low relevance to a particular tenant. This relevance rating is available now for "Targeted Release,” or early-stage external testers.
In the Admin Center, users will be able to track feature rollouts across three stages on each applicable message. "Scheduled" will designate a feature that is planned to release to a customer's tenant but is not yet available to any user in the organization. "Rolling out" means a feature is starting to roll out to some applicable users in an organization. "Launched" means a feature is generally available to all applicable users in the organization." These more granular updates will appear on the original feature status messages.
Microsoft is making feature release status available initially for a “limited number” of Microsoft Teams, Outlook on the web and Microsoft 365 Admin Center feature announcements. The release status information will be available only for new and updates features that also appear on the public Microsoft 365 Roadmap and have reached general availability/production-ready status. Officials said that "in the future," Microsoft plans to bring this same release status tracking to "other Microsoft apps and services."
Speaking of the roadmap, Microsoft is making some complementary moves with its Microsoft 365 Roadmap starting mid-March and completing by the end of this month, officials said. Some timing terminology will be changing as part of this. Specifically, "preview" will become "preview available" and "generally available (GA)" will become "rollout start. The help content and "Sort by General Availability" filter will be updated to use the new labels.
Microsoft isn't giving up on its HoloLens mixed-reality headset—at least not yet. Officials recently blogged about the company's thinking about HoloLens and mixed reality at the tail end of a year which hasn't been a banner one for HoloLens.
Microsoft will continue to work on the core HoloLens hardware technologies, including displays, tracking, sensors and battery life. But it doesn't sound like a follow-on to the HoloLens 2, which debuted in 2019, is imminent. Microsoft Mixed Reality Vice President Scott Evans said outright that Microsoft believes its customers "don’t need a successor yet, but they want to know it will be there at the right time."
Microsoft is, however, likely to introduce a number of software and services improvements that will impact the HoloLens directly in the coming months and year. Microsoft continues to tout HoloLens as a key piece of its "industrial metaverse" strategy and set of products. A week ago, officials said that they are combining two Microsoft-developed mixed-reality apps: Dynamics 365 Guides and Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, into a single app. They also are making it possible for HoloLens users to access their Teams calendars; join meetings; participate in Teams text chats; and access images or PDFs shared as holograms.
(Microsoft is pushing integrations with work-focused Microsoft 365 apps, including Team as a priority for not only its own mixed-reality offerings, but those from partners like Meta, as well.)
I've heard there are more incremental integrations coming to HoloLens and mixed reality for industrial purposes in calendar 2023. Microsoft is looking to bring more Teams, Outlook, and Dynamics 365 Finance and Operations integrations to the platform, my contacts say. A new mobile app UI and Guides 2D capabilities on mobile are in the cards. And a "Frontline Service Assistant" of some sort is on the 2023 roadmap, too, I am hearing.
Company officials say Microsoft "want(s) HoloLens to be our screens for our frontline workers." And frontline workers (also known as deskless workers), who include customer service reps, medical workers, and manufacturing workers, among other categories, are a key target audience for Microsoft in terms of growing its Microsoft 365 footprint.
I'm thinking we could hear at least a bit more about the HoloLens' future as soon as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in early January. Microsoft is a featured CES exhibitor this coming year and plans to discuss how the future of car buying and the metaverse intersect. They also plan to talk about mixed reality transforming customer service and customer experiences and connected, autonomous and "software-defined" mobility. Microsoft "Connected Fleets," which officials describe as a new reference architecture for connecting partners via common architecture, data models and business apps all anchored in the Microsoft cloud, also will be a theme at CES, officials say. Connected Fleets and Fleet Management use the Microsoft Connected Vehicle Platform to obtain data from and manage
Microsoft has not released shipment or sales numbers for HoloLens to date. While the second iteration of the HoloLens goggles offered noticeable improvements over the first, they still feel like a fairly pricey solution in search of a problem, in many ways. Just because Microsoft envisions HoloLens devices as becoming the lens through which frontline and other workers collaborate in the workplace doesn't mean customers will go this route.
"It’s hard to imagine that VR, AR, MR, whatever you want to call it, won’t be ubiquitous and natural in about 30 years, but it’s not ready for mainstream today," said Directions on Microsoft analyst Rob Sanfilippo. "That’s been the problem with HoloLens since it was introduced: unfulfilled promises due to mediocre reliability, too little field-of-view, bulky hardware, and demo videos that exaggerate the fidelity of the holograms that are generated. It can be coaxed to work for some scenarios, but further adoption will require more breakthroughs and clarity around how to apply the technology to feasible solutions."
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