Does the boredom of video conferencing get you down? Do not worry. You’ll be happy to know that if you’re a Teams user, avatars are now generally available for all Microsoft 365 Business and Enterprise licenses starting this week in the Teams desktop app on Windows and Mac. Hurrah.
Microsoft notes that avatars for Microsoft Teams “provide an alternative to the current binary option of video or no video” and include “customizable avatars and reactions,” giving users the ability to pause a camera “while engaging and having fun.” encourage”. I’m not sure I would go that far. But hey, they make for a nicer work conversation than a blank screen – supposedly.
In related news, Microsoft today announced the launch of Mesh in private preview, its platform for developers to build VR-focused experiences for the workplace. Teams users can participate in immersive spaces, including in private preview, which aim to “mimic many elements of face-to-face interactions,” such as the ability to walk into a group and catch up.
In many ways, the Mesh rollout feels like the last remnants of Microsoft’s attempt to make the “metaverse” – whatever that term implies – happen right now. Mesh was announced nearly two years ago and Microsoft has taken steps that indicate investment in VR and AR technology is winding down. In January, the company closed AltspaceVR, which was building social VR experiences, as part of a company-wide restructuring. And Microsoft has reportedly canceled the successor to its HoloLens 2 headset due to “strategic uncertainty.”
Microsoft, of course, denies this. A spokesperson said via email: “We continue to see strong customer interest and demand for our immersive solutions. Our customers tell us that housing a global workforce that is more dispersed than ever post-pandemic could lead to the loss of natural, meaningful connections in the workplace… [With Mesh,] organizations have the opportunity to rebuild lost social capital while helping to reduce the financial burden and environmental impact of travel and facilities.”
But it’s clear from the rest of the entries from Build Today that Microsoft’s main focus is on dominating the generative AI space. There’s certainly a more obvious return there than the metaverse, which has cost Meta, another tech giant looking to allow VR to widespread adoption, billions and billions of dollars. (Significantly, Meta is increasingly shifting its focus away from VR technology in favor of AI, due in part to pressure from investors.)
Time will tell if it’s the right move. But it seems Microsoft has no regrets about the pivot just yet.