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ProBeat: AI helps Microsoft rethink Office for mobile phones



Microsoft launched an office app this week to replace Word, Excel, and PowerPoint on Android and iOS. Merging three apps into one and adding more features has been quite a success. The new Office app is not only used for consuming content and possibly for easy editing on the side, but also for creating content on the go. Interestingly, many of these features require AI and machine learning to fundamentally achieve this new paradigm of mobile productivity.

Microsoft has added AI-driven functionality to its once most profitable product line in years – we have a summary of just a handful last year. However, the launch of Office this week has shown that Microsoft AI not only extends what you can already do with the productivity suite, but has added new use cases overall. Most new features aren't just traditional desktop features that are ported to mobile devices. These are use cases that are better on mobile devices or not possible on the desktop.

With Office, you can take a picture of a document and convert it to a Word file. You can take a picture of a table and convert it into an Excel file. It is very wise not only to understand what an image represents, but also to convert it to an editable format. You can select some pictures on your phone and let Office design a PowerPoint presentation for you. You can take a whiteboard, document, or photo and let Office automatically digitally improve it for you. These are use cases that you cannot and will not necessarily run on your computer.

Even the AI-based section of recommended documents on the home screen uses machine learning in Microsoft Graph to provide (cache) suggestions for faster and offline use). Up-to-dateness and connectivity are even more important when we are on the go.

In a briefing with me before the news, Microsoft 365 general manager Rob Howard, "AI and new form factors as well as new and new software" was playing on the company for smarter experiences "to close the gap between desktop and mobile conclude. The team wanted to get rid of the feeling we often get when we try to be productive on our phone. You know when we get to the end: "Fuck it. I'll just wait until I'm back on a computer. “

I followed him to pull a little more on this thread and ask if AI plays as important a role as I thought ,

VentureBeat: Does AI enable Microsoft to create productivity features on mobile devices that it simply couldn't do before?
Rob Howard: ] Absolutely. Carefully researched, user-oriented design is a long way in itself. Combine this with AI, and even tasks like data entry and slide design don't have to wait until you're back on your mouse and keyboard.

VentureBeat: Does AI help Microsoft rethink Office for mobile phones?
Rob Howard: Yes. With the new office app, we not only want to consume content, but also increase the productivity of the phones. We use AI throughout the app to help people capture, create, and design content with the camera, their voice, and the mobile-friendly user interface.

I wasn't really expecting Howard to say no to either question, but it's still remarkable how clearly he agreed. If you look at the individual features that Microsoft added with this launch, it makes sense.

So far, Microsoft has largely ported the desktop office experience to mobile devices. The main focus was on making it easier for you to access your documents on your phone. Microsoft is still doing this. One of the three features of the Office app this spring, Excel Cards, is just a new view that lets you edit Excel files on your phone. The other two, Word Dictation and Outline to PowerPoint, use AI to let you work on mobile devices like you've never done before – neither on the desktop nor anywhere else.

The question you need to ask yourself now is when does it make sense to use Office on my phone and when should I use Office by default on my computer? That was pretty obvious before, but now Microsoft is using AI to blur that line.

ProBeat is a column in which Emil scolds everything that crosses him this week.


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