Microsoft Teams is different on desktop, iOS and Android: Here’s what you need to know

microsoft-teams-is-different-on-desktop,-ios-and-android:-here’s-what-you-need-to-know

Microsoft is rapidly evolving its Teams app on iOS and Android, as the collaboration tool embraces firstline and other mobile workers.

Collaboration tools like Slack and Teams have become key to remote work, offering shared spaces for working on specific projects, hanging out with co-workers, and taking part in voice and video meetings. They’re powerful platforms, with APIs that allow you to build and deploy apps and services right alongside chats.

SEE: Office 365: A guide for tech and business leaders (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

Microsoft Teams has become an important part of its Microsoft 365 service, building on the Microsoft Graph and offering a web-based rendering environment for applications. It’s built using web technologies, with a browser client and desktop tool that’s running in GitHub’s Electron HTML and JavaScript runtime. But the desktop isn’t the only way to access Teams: it’s available on iOS and on Android via Apple’s and Google’s respective app stores, with a very different set of use cases from the desktop.

Teams for the frontline

There’s been something of a sea change at Microsoft over the past few years. It used to be a company focused on skilled ‘knowledge workers’, with the slogan ‘A computer on every desk and in every home’. The mission statement is now ‘to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more’. With the change of emphasis from computers to people, there’s a shift to supporting firstline workers, who often work shifts and are usually paid by the hour.

It’s a move that has put less focus on the PC, and more on mobile devices. Staff working in a coffee shop, say, need access to shared notices and shift-booking tools rather than copies of Word and PowerPoint. Microsoft offers its Microsoft 365 F3 plans, which come with web and mobile device support for the Office apps, including the mobile version of Teams and the services needed to support it.

Teams on iOS and Android

If there’s one thing that the Teams mobile app isn’t, it’s a clone of the desktop Teams experience. While that would be easy for Microsoft to deliver, it wouldn’t be the easy-to-use, easy-to-learn application that a firstline worker needs. They need to be able to pick it up and get to work, with minimal training. So the mobile Teams needs to be designed to work like any other iPhone or Android app, with a familiar look-and-feel and support for native mobile features.

There are Teams features that make more sense on mobile, while others are there to help you manage your work/life balance more effectively. That can be as simple as setting quiet times to block out calls and messages when you don’t want to be disturbed. Unlike Windows’ Focus Assist tools, Teams goes further and offers an option of Quiet Days, which allow you to block out whole days — stopping notifications at weekends or on shift rest days, for example.

Walkie Talkie, which works over wi-fi or cellular connections, will be available in the Teams mobile app in July and will integrate with Samsung’s rugged Galaxy XCover Pro smartphone.

Image: Microsoft

Walking and talking

One important feature in the mobile version of Teams is Walkie Talkie, launching on Android devices in July. Like the old press-to-talk phones, it’s a way to quickly put staff in touch with each other. Using either Wi-Fi or cellular data, it provides a secure voice communications channel for individuals and groups. Walkie Talkie is part of Microsoft’s partnership with Samsung’s mobile phone group, with the new Galaxy XCover Pro rugged phone offering a hardware ‘talk’ button that activates the feature.

Walkie Talkie is like any Teams app, and needs to be installed from the Teams admin centre. Once it’s installed and deployed to devices, you’ll need to set up dedicated teams and channels for Walkie Talkie, to segment groups of users and avoid cross-talk and confusion. Users will connect to a channel when they come on-shift and disconnect when they leave.

SEE: Microsoft 365: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

For staff on a factory floor, issuing a corporate-managed smartphone with hardware support for tools like Teams makes a big difference. The learning curve is shorter, and you’re able to use Microsoft 365’s InTune device management service to control the software on devices and how they’re used. Walkie Talkie is still in private preview, but should launch soon.

If a Walkie Talkie isn’t what you need, Teams still offers useful audio features in its chat tools. Where you might type a message on a PC, Teams has the option of using your phone to record a message that’s dropped in-line in the chat. There’s often very little time to compose a message on a phone screen, so quickly dictating a message lets you stay in touch with team members without having to give your phone all your attention.

From desk to hand: making Teams mobile

Closely related is an easy way of sharing your location, hooking into your device’s existing GPS and mapping tools. Tap on the ‘…’ in a chat, where you normally chose emoji or link to video streams, and Teams will insert a map snippet and an address. It’s a useful way for field service engineers or other mobile workers to quickly let others know where they are in relation to current calls, making it easier to quickly allocate tasks to the worker nearest a call.

Microsoft is clearly aware of the differences between desktop and mobile use. Some of the mobile Teams features are there to make sure that using Teams doesn’t detract from your device’s look and feel. That includes support for a dark mode, which can be useful in low-light conditions or where you don’t want to disturb the people around you. Other options make it easier to customise the buttons and menus, so you can have the tools and apps you use inside in Teams right where you need them.

Modern mobile devices are more than portable computers; they’re powerful cameras as well. Microsoft’s ML-powered Office Lens is a tool for taking and sharing images of documents and screens, automatically trimming unwanted borders and adjusting perspective. It turns a phone into a portable scanner, and by integrating Office Lens into the mobile Teams app you can quickly share paper documents with colleagues without leaving the app.

Tools like Teams are going to be an important part of the work experience for most of us, so it’s good to see the mobile version of the app now offering mobile-specific features that differentiate it from the desktop. The way we work on mobile is evolving, and the rapid evolution of apps like Teams shows that they are keeping pace, supporting and guiding these developments. It will be very interesting to see what the mobile version of Teams looks like in a year or even five years’ time.

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66 data-science teams worldwide participate in challenge to beat COVID-19

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Winners identified location-based risks, developed apps to calculate infection risk, and delivered data-driven recommendations for Los Angeles County’s reopening stages.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Data scientists determined to facilitate transitions to reopen the economy participated in a two-week “2020 COVID-19 Computational Challenge” (CCC) in mid-June. The challenge was to “provide guidance for risk mitigation to serve” Los Angeles County. Additionally, the solution “must incorporate the ethical protection of individual data and respect data privacy norms.”

The winning teams revealed location-based COVID-19 exposure at different L.A. communities, developed apps for people to calculate their potential for infection, and delivered applicable data-driven recommendations along with L.A.’s reopening stages, officials said.

Of the 66 data-science teams worldwide (comprising a total of 405 contestants) which entered, six projects were chosen by a panel of judges from the City of Los Angeles, L.A. County Department of Public Health, the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, and academia.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

The event was co-hosted by the Global Association of Research Methods and Data Science (RMDS) Lab, which will compile the winners’ findings to deploy a web-based risk assessment app and an alert system to serve the public. The development is much needed as the coronavirus infection numbers in Los Angeles County and California are skyrocketing this week: As of June 28, L.A. County reported 100,417 confirmed cases and 3,325 deaths, and California reported 217,000 confirmed cases and 5,937 deaths.

In fact, in the very location the challenge was reviewed, the Public Health Department (PHD) reported that 80% of restaurants and bars in Los Angeles County are not following COVID-19 precautions. PHD cited a failure to communicate: Business owners are not communicating new rules to staff and patrons. Basically, in inspections of 2,000 L.A. food services, the most minimal of precautions—wearing a mask and social distancing—are not being followed.

The chosen ones

First place: Team USC-ANRG from the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering—risk estimation using SIR, a simplified color-coded risk level for each community. The risk score corresponds to the probability of a healthy person becoming infected by COVID-19 in the future.

Second place: was shared by three teams (project names are between parentheses) 

  1. Team DSO from the USC Department of Data Sciences and Operations (“DSO Infection and Risk Scores”), which predicted where and when the risk of contracting COVID-19 is highest, by predicting the number of new infections in a specific neighborhood on a given day. Basically, it estimates which area/neighborhood presents a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus. 

  2. Team RPI Solver from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (“Location-based risk score for places in the city of L.A.,” which developed a mathematical model to evaluate the location-based risk in L.A., with data from SafeGraph and open-data portals, and generated risk scores for 30,864 different places, such as grocery and clothing stores, gas stations, and more. 

  3. Team Contemporary Li from Zhejiang University (“City of L.A. re-open risk evaluation”)

    assessed the risk index of COVID-19 infection in L.A. at different stages of the reopening process by building a multi-indicator evaluation system, as well as proposed epidemic prevention recommendations for the government and communities of L.A.

Best application: Team The Padron Peppers from Grinnell College (COVID-19 activity risk calculator”), which studied socioeconomic disparities across L.A. County neighborhoods and how they may have been/be a factor in the spread of the coronavirus based on positive test results. It evaluates the risk of leaving home, based on a personal-risk profile, a neighborhood-based risk profile, and activity based on risk profile.

Rising star in data science: Team HDMA from the Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age used “population, case rate, death rate, and elderly population to determine risk scores of L.A. County neighborhoods” to make a projection for the total deaths and infections for  L.A. County in the coming weeks. The risk scores found can extrapolate if a neighborhood will have an above or below average death and case total in the coming weeks.

Support

The CCC was supported by SafeGraph, Snowflake, UCLA Computational Medicine, Esri, Gartner, Mastercard, and the L.A. County Department of Public Health on open data sources, public health policies, epidemiology, COVID risk scoring examples, data ethics, as well as the business perspective on how to create and utilize this risk score.

Winners received cash prizes of more than $3,000, as well as considerations for internship positions at the City of Los Angeles, UCLA Computational Medicine, and other partner organizations.

In addition, they will have one-on-one mentorship with data executives, a recommendation of a technical report for publishing at Harvard Data Science Review magazine, certificates for winners and contestants who make a complete submission, and an invitation to present at IM Data 2020.

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How IT teams have been challenged by the shift to remote working

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IT staffers have grappled with such user issues as password lockouts and an inability to access internal apps, says Hitachi ID.

Middle aged woman sitting at a table reading using a tablet computer, holding a cup, front view

Image: Monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has led to a quick and abrupt shift toward remote working among many organizations. Such a fast transition naturally has been a challenge for both remote workers and IT staff as they strive to work under these new and changing conditions. A report released Wednesday by identity management firm Hitachi ID points out some of the biggest challenges for IT triggered by the transition to remote working.

SEE:  Life after lockdown: Your office job will never be the same–here’s what to expect (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic) 

Based on a survey of 100 CIOs in North America conducted by Hitachi ID and social research firm Pulse, 95% of the respondents admitted that their IT teams have been bogged down by remote working efficiencies during the COVID-19 crisis. Among the challenges, employee password lockouts was the top issue cited by 71% of those surveyed. Specifically, IT support is being hit with more requests for sign-in assistance on the part of employees.

Cited by 55% of the respondents, an inability to access internal applications is another roadblock for employees that requires assistance from IT. Other issues thrown at IT support include those concerning multifactor authentication, insecure or undersized VPNs, cybersecurity attacks, and the reliability of their on-premises servers.

Image: Hitachi ID

Adding to the day-to-day challenges for IT are budgetary constraints. Among the CIOs surveyed, 77% said that they’ve reduced their budgets, while 74% are prioritizing their spending toward projects that address operational efficiency. In the face of the reductions, some 40% said they’re still maintaining spending on Identity and Access Management (IAM), which attempts to ensure that only the right people have the necessary access to critical or confidential data, computers, networks, and other resources.

Among the CIOs who reported issues with password lockouts and access to internal applications, 82% said they’ve reduced their IT budgets during the coronavirus pandemic, 79% said they’re investing in tools that boost operational efficiency, and 36% said that if they’d had more time to plan a migration toward remote working, they would have invested in SaaS-based IAM.

Asked which tools they would have invested in to better prepare for the COVID-19 crisis, 67% pointed to collaboration tools, 59% cited security awareness training, and 43% multifactor authentication. Other tools that made the list include server infrastructure and single sign-on. Further, 52% said that their on-premises tools have proven more effective during the crisis, while 48% said that SaaS or cloud-based solutions have been more effective.

“Due to the sudden shift to remote work, many organizations have been facing IT challenges,” Hitachi ID told TechRepublic. “The biggest among them, according to our survey, was employee password lockout. Implementing identity management practices will ease the stress on IT teams and allow them to focus their efforts elsewhere. Organizations should encourage employees to use strong passwords and synchronization, enable adaptive multifactor authentication and federation, establish privileged access management, and implement audit and certification and reporting standards.”

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Zoom losing to Teams in the video conference race to the top

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Microsoft Teams use grew 894%, while Zoom’s grew 677%, between Feb. 17 to June 14, according to data from Aternity.

collaboration-tool-growth.jpg

Image: Aternity

Zoom may have the hype, the cool backgrounds, and the sexy name, but Microsoft Teams quietly surpassed Zoom users during the week of May 4. As of June 14, 2020, Microsoft Teams grew 894% and Zoom grew 677% from its base use during the week of Feb. 17, according to Aternity data.

Aternity has been taking a close look at the world of remote work, the new normal, and just released the fourth volume (The Emergence of Collaboration App Sprawl) of its Global Remote Work Productivity research series, which looked closely at how leading collaboration tools were used and shared, incentivized by the new normal of many switching from in-office to working from home (WFH). Initially assumed a short-term solution, in the weeks and months after COVID-19 sent staff to WFH, companies have made what the report refers to as the employee digital experience become a long-term technology investment. 

SEE: Life after lockdown: Your office job will never be the same–here’s what to expect (cover story PDF) (TechRepublic)

And, yes, Skype makes an appearance and provides a comparative to Microsoft Teams, too. Between the survey period of Feb 17 to June 14, Skype for Business Usage declined from 76% to 45%. Meanwhile, Teams usage grew from 11% to 34%.

Image: Aternity

But don’t discount Skype, because collaboration tools are used predominantly for direct person-to-person interaction, and Skype’s audio and video calls accounted for 97% of all interaction for a single week mid-June. 

Just last week, Teams and Skype were made interoperable. Teams or Skype users wanting to collaborate together directly–whether though, message, call or video chat–can now do so.

Highlights of the report 

Nonwork-related web browsing by employees dropped sharply in late April as employees became less preoccupied about the COVID-19 outbreak: 38% of total application use time goes to Microsoft Office with 46% growth in Outlook usage, between Feb. 17 and June 14.

Image: Aternity

SEE: COVID-19: A guide and checklist for restarting your business (TechRepublic Premium)

Competition heats up

During the pandemic, Microsoft Teams continued to make strides, features that drew more users, such as hosting meetings, creating teams and channels. File sharing is a key part of remote collaboration, and Microsoft Teams refined and made the ability for colleagues to work together easier. The key has been to work effectively while telecommuting.  Microsoft Teams added a two-click Snapchat filter and ease in adding third-party cloud services.

Cisco’s work-collaboration platform Webex tripled its volume in use in April and credited employees who were WFH, and was the highlight of last week’s Cisco Live 2020. The tripling in volume is represented by 500 million participants generating 25 billion meeting minutes. 

In May, Microsoft Teams grew more versatility and TechRepublic cited some of the best Microsoft Teams apps geared to those working remotely:

  • GitHub

  • Adobe Creative Cloud

  • Polly for Microsoft Teams

  • Google Analytics

  • Salesforce

  • Power BI

  • MailClark

  • App Studio

  • Health Hero

  • Choose-your-own project management software

Zoom moved to be more appealing to users, and took one of its premium account services, E2EE, (end to end encryption) and offered it to all account users. 

Earlier this month, Aruba unveiled multiple artificial intelligence (AI)-powered solutions designed to accommodate the return of telecommuters to the office. The solutions included contact and location tracing, contactless, visitor management, video and AI-based health monitoring. Tools for working at home (for telecommuters and those who may be hybrid employees) include remote access points, and virtual intranet access.

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Zoom vs. Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Cisco WebEx and Skype: Choosing the right video-conferencing apps for you

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Businesses forced to work remotely due to coronavirus have relied heavily on video-conferencing software over the past few months. With companies looking for tools that can support staff in their roles and help them maintain contact with colleagues, the market for video chat and collaboration apps has heated up significantly.

Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams have perhaps been the most closely contending services vying for users in recent weeks. Each provider has been keeping a watchful eye on their rivals and releasing updates on what seems to have become a near-weekly basis, with the view to giving them an edge over the competition. The good news for users is that the continual one-upmanship has led platform providers to improve security, add new features and make some of their services free.

Of course, Zoom, Microsoft and Google aren’t the only companies competing in this space – far from it. There are a number of well-established providers that have been offering video-conferencing software for years, with equally rich feature sets. This includes Cisco’s WebEx – a webinar platform long-favored by organizations all over the world – as well as BlueJeans, which was recently snapped up by Verizon to become part of the telecom company’s 5G portfolio.

Each video-conferencing service comes with its own list of pros and cons, as well as a variation in what it offers. Still, with a little research you can ensure that you are selecting the right service for your businesses’ particular requirements.

This free PDF download from TechRepublic will help you decide which video conferencing platform is right for your business needs. The below table – which is by no means exhaustive – represents six commonly used video-conferencing platforms and chat apps, alongside some of the features worth considering when shopping around.