Microsoft Starts Selling HoloLens To Everyone

What Happened
If you have been waiting to experience the magical augmented reality generated by HoloLens, Microsoft has good news for you. The company announced on Tuesday that it is starting to sell its HoloLens AR glasses to all business customers in the U.S. and Canada on a limited basis. Previously, only developers and select business customers developing showcase apps were able to get their hands on the $3,000 HoloLens Development edition. Now, companies can purchase up to five HoloLens devices for internal use and development. And since all Microsoft requires is an address in the U.S. or Canada and a Microsoft account, technically anyone can now buy a HoloLens if they have three grand to spare.

What Brands Need To Do
As we pointed out in our recent Fast Forward on the Pokémon Go phenomenon, AR technology holds great potential for brands to explore, especially in its capability to bridge the physical and digital world. Thanks to Pokémon Go, a mass audience is falling in love with augmented reality, opening the door for brands to leverage AR to reach consumers. Therefore, brands that wish to stay ahead of the curve should consider investing in some HoloLens devices, which is arguably the most mature AR headset in the market right now.

The Lab has extensive experience with AR technologies and how they apply to marketing. For anyone that has yet to experience augmented reality, the Lab has a HoloLens that is ready for demo. Please get in touch with our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) if you’d like to request a HoloLens demo or have a client opportunity.


Source: ZDNet

Microsoft Adds New Features To Its Skype Bots

What Happened
Chatbots on Skype are about to become more useful as Microsoft debuts new features for its Skype Bot platform. Now with the new groups support, users can add a bot to group chats to schedule an appointment, get an Uber, or order a pizza. With added support for various “in-conversation cards,” such as visual image cards, carousel cards, and receipt cards, bot developers can deliver more content to users without leaving the chat. The update came just days after the company refreshed its main Bot Framework platform with a stack of new features.

What Brands Need To Do
These new chatbot features should give the Skype bots a boost in functionality. The support for group chats extends the reach of Skype chatbots, transforming a typically one-on-one experience of talking with a chatbot into a social experience. The added support for cards provides developers a handy tool for offer users a more enriched chat experience. Brands developing their own bots to engage with Skype users should definitely take advantage of these new features. To learn more about how brands can use chat bots to better serve customers via messaging apps, check out our Medium post on this topic.

The Lab has extensive knowledge about building chatbots. If you’re interested in reaching your audience on messaging apps and better serving them with a chatbot, please contact our Client Services Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) for more information or to schedule a visit to the Lab.


Source: Engadget

Starbucks Creates Add-In For Microsoft Outlook To Court Business Users

What Happened
Starbucks is looking to insert its brand into the most popular email client among enterprise users with an extension. Introduced at Microsoft’s Build developer conference in March, the Outlook extension enables users to book meetings at a local Starbucks and send electronic gift cards to each other right in Outlook. It is currently available for various desktop and web-based versions of Outlook with plans to make it available for Outlook’s Mac and mobile apps in the coming months.

What Brands Need To Do
Starbucks’s extension for Outlook is a great example of how brands can integrate themselves into popular platforms and apps that consumers are using daily and provide valuable services, in this case the convenience of choosing a local Starbucks store as a meeting spot within Outlook’s scheduling interface, and the ease of sending people Starbucks gift cards to show your appreciation. Another recent example in this regard is Uber’s Payment Rewards program with Capital One, where the bank inserted its service into the popular ride-hailing app by rewarding its card-carriers with free rides.

As we pointed out in our Outlook 2016, the ongoing trend of “Brand as a Service” means that brands need to deliver true value to consumers – not just with your products but also meeting your customers at a place where you can improve their lives. For brands seeking to stay ahead of the curve and connect with consumers in new channels, it is time to take the “Brand as a Service” approach and explore interesting ways to integrate your brand into a suitable digital platform, be it popular apps like Outlook and Uber, hot messaging apps such as Snapchat and Slack, or emerging live-streaming platforms.


Source: PCMag

Microsoft Launches eSports League For Popular Racing Game

What Happened
Microsoft is set to launch an eSports league for its popular racing game Forza Motorsport. Simply named Forza Racing Championship, the new official tournament will be run by Microsoft with no third-party collaborations but invites anyone to compete for real prizes. Although details are scarce at the moment, the matches are scheduled to kick off with Forza Motorsport 6 this summer.

What Brands Need To Do
Today, the top video game titles each captures tens of millions of hours of consumer attention monthly on Twitch, making eSports an important media segment that brands should not miss. Created by Turn 10 Studios and published by Microsoft, the Forza series is among the most popular Xbox games, with Forza Motorsport 6 selling over 1 million copies within the first four months of its launch. Given its popularity and Microsoft’s marketing push, this new Championship league should be a hit among game lovers, and presents brands, especially auto brands, a valuable sponsorship opportunity to reach the young, male-skewing audience that eSports typically attracts.


Sources: Engadget

Microsoft Restricts Brand Advertising In Popular Game Minecraft

What Happened
Brand marketers love the popular online world-building game Minecraft, which has sold more than 70 million copies so far. Thanks to its loose restrictions against branded content, many brands have taken the chance to build branded maps and mods to reach its young and growing player base. For example, Verizon created a working video phone and Walt Disney made an elaborate Tomorrowland map to promote the eponymous movie last year.

That free reign has come to an end this week as Microsoft announced it will start limiting the ways brands can use Minecraft for promotional purposes. Companies are now no longer allowed to make mods that promote products unrelated to the game. Entertainment brands are also barred from making Minecraft items or maps that look like “the fictional world of a movie or its characters.”  

Why Brands Should Care
According to Microsoft, the decision stems from user complaints about excessive in-game advertising. Players are annoyed that the virtual world of Minecraft is increasingly littered with branded objects and demanded restricting this type of product placement. As Microsoft tightens the rules on branded content in Minecraft, brand marketers should actively explore other gaming channels to reach the young-skewing audience that Minecraft delivers, such as sponsoring eSports tournament events or livestreams on Twitch.


Source: Digiday

Microsoft Adds Branded Stickers To Skype

What Happened
With the launch of a new feature named Moji, popular video-calling app Skype has added stickers to its chat windows across all platforms. Unlike most stickers in other messaging apps, however, Skype collaborated with Microsoft’s media partners such as Universal Studios, Disney, and BBC to allow users to share short moments from popular movies and TV shows in GIF form.

What Brands Should Do
This new feature is one of the most recent development in the evolution of branded stickers in messaging apps, which offer brands and media owners a new way to make their content available to consumers in conversational contexts, while also enabling fans to share and spread the content. In some cases, content owners also charge an in-app purchase fee for the stickers, which gives them a new revenue stream. As messaging apps continue to diversify their services and revenues, brands should consider making their popular Intellectual property available in sticker form.

The Lab has extensive experience working with brands to develop campaigns and communications strategy for messaging platforms. Last year, the Lab developed a campaign on Kik for Sony Music to promote a new album launch of popular boyband One Direction, which later earned us a Smarties Award from the Mobile Marketing Association. To learn more about sticker usage and brand opportunities on messaging apps in general, you can contact our Engagement Director Samantha Holland ([email protected]) and schedule a visit to the Lab.


Source: VentureBeat

Microsoft Updates Outlook With Uber, PayPal, and Evernote Integration

What Happened
Microsoft is rolling out a redesigned with deep integration with a host of add-ins from partner platforms, such as Uber, PayPal, and Boomerang. Some newly announced partners including Evernote, Yelp, IFTTT and Wunderlist will be integrated into the web version of Microsoft’s email client in coming weeks. Through such integrations, Microsoft gets to build out its platform with new functionality, while the partner services get a boost in reaching potential users.

What Brands Should Do
For brands looking to increase audience reach through this kind of platform integration, the Outlook API is available for building your own branded add-ins. Moreover, brands should consider forging partnerships enabled by deep-linking platforms. For example, InMoji can help brands extend reach and build engagement with users of messaging apps via custom-branded, clickable emoji and stickers.


Source: The Next Web

Microsoft Is Bringing Cutting-Edge Tech Into Gaming

Read original story on: Engadget

Gaming is growing increasingly immersive as integrations with cutting-edge technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) deepens. In fact, at the E3 event currently underway, Microsoft just announced a new version of Minecraft built specifically for its HoloLens headset that was demonstrated at E3 yesterday. The company has also teamed up with Oculus for Xbox One game streaming and Valve for VR on Windows 10.

These two announcements may have Sony on high alert, as the competitive company does not offer the compatibility that Microsoft now does. ESPN magazine is at the forefront of the rise of competitive gaming, releasing the first ever issue on e-sports, calling the meteoric rise of professional gaming in recent years “the birth of a new sport”. As eSports continues to grow and gain legitimacy, we expect more emerging technologies to be integrated.



Turning Point For VR Gaming: Xbox Games Coming To Oculus Rift

Read original story on: TechCrunch

At a special press event this Thursday, Facebook-owned VR headset maker Oculus announced a new partnership with Microsoft, which will soon allow players to stream Xbox One games to the Rift and play them using a special Xbox One controller. Oculus is expected to ship its first consumer-facing model early next year, which the VR-compatible controller will ship with.

As VR and AR technologies continue to mature, increasingly ready for the mainstream consumer market, this partnership between Microsoft and Facebook makes perfect sense. By adding support for Oculus, Xbox gains a strong new selling point, while Facebook find a great launch partner for Oculus, easing VR headsets into mainstream market through video gaming.

Will Speech-Driven Digital Assistants Be The New Universal UI?

Read original story on: ArsTechnica

Microsoft is looking to extend its voice-command service with an ambitious Project Oxford, which includes a set of APIs and SDKs to allow developers to integrate speech command and many other machine learning capabilities behind Cortana, Microsoft’s own Siri, into third-party platforms and applications ranging from smart TVs to home automation systems.

Following on its Build conference, which we recapped here, Microsoft announced its plan to push for deeper app integration into Cortana in Windows 10, especially for simple task completions. If implemented, this would mean that tasks such as calling an Uber could be accomplished via simple speech command without opening the app.

One possible long-term result of these advances would be that developers could incorporate speech-driven digital assistants like Cortana into of all sorts of devices, making it the new universal user interface. Coupled with the rise of the Internet of Things, as well as new developments in in-app deep linking, it could significantly change how consumers interact with digital devices, which poses new challenges and opportunities for brands.


Update 5/26: Microsoft’s officially bringing Cortana to iPhone and Android with its new Phone Companion app for Windows 10, which promises to help users sync their mobile phones with their PCs.