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Microsoft Teams Roadmap: Support for 1,000 Meeting Attendees, New Hardware

Microsoft Teams is poised to receive a raft of new features in the coming months, many of them designed to make remote videoconferences feel more "natural."

Microsoft outlined the new features in a series of announcements on Wednesday. To make remote meetings feel more like actual in-person meetings, Microsoft actually tested the human-factor aspects of some of these new features by measuring the brain-wave responses of Teams meetings participants. Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, described that process and the studies' results in this blog post.

"Looking at days filled with video meetings, stress begins to set in at about two hours into the day," Spataro said. "The research suggests several factors lead to this sense of meeting fatigue: having to focus continuously on the screen to extract relevant information and stay engaged; reduced non-verbal cues that help you read the room or know whose turn it is to talk; and screen sharing with very little view of the people you are interacting with."

New Teams Hardware Additions
In addition to listing coming Teams software features, Microsoft described a few enhancements to Teams hardware products.

Microsoft and its partners are planning to deliver new Microsoft Teams Display devices in the U.S. market starting "later this year." A Microsoft Teams Display device is a dedicated meetings device that can be controlled via Cortana voice commands, and it'll pair up with a PC. Microsoft described these devices as helping to "setup more effective home office spaces" for employees.

According to Microsoft, the Lenovo ThinkSmart View, priced at $350, will be the first Microsoft Teams Display product to market. Yealink is also building a Microsoft Teams Display product. These devices are conceived as "an evolution" of IP desk phones, offering good audio and video performance, according to a comment by Ilya Bukshteyn, a partner director for Microsoft Teams Devices at Microsoft.

Microsoft Teams Room devices will be getting Cortana voice assistance support sometime "later this year." Also coming in that time period will be the ability to "wirelessly cast" to another device to support "ad hoc in-person collaboration for people in a shared space," which will be supported by "any Teams Room, collaboration bar or Surface Hub device."

Microsoft Surface Hub devices will be able to share content to other meeting room devices. That capability also will be coming "later this year." More of these kind of nuances associated with Teams hardware can be found in this Microsoft announcement.

Coming to Teams in July
Microsoft indicated some Teams software enhancements that are expected to appear in July.

The existing Live Captions feature in Teams shows what is being said during a videoconferencing session in text form on the screen. Live Captions will be getting a new ability to identify the speaker in these screen captions. This new Speaker Attribution feature in Live Captions is expected to be available "soon," according to Microsoft's announcement. The Microsoft 365 Roadmap page suggested it'll reach general availability for U.S. English users sometime this month.

Teams users will be getting a Suggested Replies feature at general availability sometime this month that presents three suggested reply options to messages in Teams. The reply messages are generated by artificial intelligence, Microsoft explained.

Microsoft indicated that the Tasks app in Teams will be "rolling out this month." The Tasks app shows a list of tasks that gets compiled from "Microsoft To Do, Planner and Outlook" applications. The Tasks app in Teams will get renamed from earlier product versions called "Planner," "Tasks by Planner" and "To Do," Microsoft explained in a document note.

Coming in August
A few of these new Teams features will be arriving in August, either at "general availability" commercial release or at preview.

One of them is Together Mode. It puts the faces of conference attendees into a background image of a seating section, as if they were in a theater's audience section. Together Mode is thought to make it easier for Teams participants to see nonverbal reactions. Together Mode is rolling out now in preview, but it will be available at "general availability" commercial release in August.

A new Large Gallery View feature in Teams shows up to 49 meeting participants in a single screen (via a 7x7 view). The Large Gallery View feature is expected to roll out in preview in August.

The Teams mobile app will be getting Cortana, Microsoft's digital personal assistant, which can make calls, join meetings, send messages and share files via voice commands. General availability arrival on iOS and Android platforms for Microsoft 365 Enterprise users in U.S. English is expected in August, per the Roadmap. Microsoft claims in this document that Cortana is getting "enterprise productivity" capabilities in terms of meeting privacy, compliance and security requirements.

It soon will be possible to poll Teams participants using a coming Reflect extension. The Reflect extension gets installed from GitHub, and is surfaced in Teams via a Messaging Extensions capability. The Teams Messaging Extensions capability creates a Web service that can appear within the Teams client, which then can be used for various purposes. The new Reflect extension will be "available in the coming weeks," Microsoft indicated.

Coming in Q3
Some new Teams features described by Microsoft are expected to appear in Q3 of this year.

There will be a new Dynamic View feature in Teams. It distributes shared content and conference attendee images across a screen using artificial intelligence to optimize the view. However, this view also can be customized. The release of Dynamic View for Teams wasn't described, but the Microsoft 365 Roadmap page suggested it'll appear as a preview in Q3 this year.

Microsoft Whiteboard in Teams will be getting user interface capabilities such as "sticky notes, pen and ink, and drag and drop capabilities." These capabilities can be accessed by users lacking access to "a touchscreen or Surface Hub" device, Microsoft explained. The Roadmap suggested these Whiteboard improvements will reach general availability in Q3.

Coming in Q4
Other new Teams features are expected to appear sometime in Q4 of this year.

It'll be possible to hold videoconferencing meetings of up to 1,000 attendees in Teams. This new Large Meeting Support feature is expected to reach general availability in Q4, per the Roadmap. Meetings can actually get up to 20,000 attendees, but participants in that case just appear in a so-called "view-only" mode, Microsoft explained.

Teams participants will be able to display emoji icons to express their reactions during Teams videoconferencing sessions via a coming Live Reactions feature, expected to reach general availability in Q4 per the Roadmap.

Microsoft further explained that Live Reactions is a PowerPoint Live Presentations feature, which lets participants comment on PowerPoint slides. Microsoft added that "we are also bringing PowerPoint Live Presentations to Teams in the future." That future date will be in Q4 of this year, per the Roadmap.

A Chat Bubbles feature will show chats by all participants during a Teams meeting without the user having to "manually open a chat window." It'll reach general availability in Q4, per the Roadmap.

It'll be possible to organize meetings into so-called Virtual Breakout Rooms, which are conceived "for things like brainstorming or workgroup discussions."  The Virtual Breakout Rooms feature is expected to appear sometime in Q4 this year, per the Roadmap.

Teams videoconferencing participants will be able to adjust their lighting and soften the background focus with a new Video Filters feature. Video Filters is planned for arrival in Q4 of this year, per the Roadmap.

Teams has a coming Live Transcription capability that will save a transcript file from a videoconferencing session within a meeting's chat tab. Live Transcription will be getting the ability to identify speakers via a new Speaker Attribution feature. Live Transcription will be "coming later this year," according to Microsoft's announcement. The Roadmap page indicated that Live Transcription with Speaker Attribution will reach general availability for U.S. English users sometime in Q4.

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