Microsoft Envision is a conference and event geared toward businesses of all sizes. While many of the products, sessions, and partner exhibitors were obviously targeting large enterprises, we did see a number of innovations of interest to smaller businesses. Some of these innovations are newer than others, but we thought all had the potential to be interesting to a range of smaller businesses. This is what caught our eye:
Microsoft has put a lot of development into its Translator product. Five years ago, Microsoft launched its text translation API and last week, it officially launched its speech translation product (although it had been announced earlier).
You may have heard about Skype’s translation abilities. It’s Microsoft Translator that powers those capabilities.
Depending on the languages involved, Translator can translate spoken words to speech or to text, or text to speech or to text (see accompanying graphic).
Translator has free usage associated with it, and also a paid API for larger enterprise applications.
One way that small businesses can use Translator, the representative in the Translator booth at Envision said, is if you have a need to translate a large number of working documents, such as legal documents or orientation documents.
“Machine translation is fast and gets you to your end goal quicker,” she added, because you can get a rough translation and then have a human translator go over it for fine tuning.
Windows Continuum for Phones
Continuum, a Microsoft innovation, lets you turn a Windows phone into a computer. With Continuum, your phone screen can be displayed on a computer monitor. And you get full access to all the phone functionality, just displayed on bigger virtual real estate.
It’s a neat feature for business travelers, for instance. It means you can travel with just a phone. Then, hook it up to a hotel business center computer — without worrying about personal information being left behind on the computer to be accessed by strangers. And you can still talk on the phone or send instant messages at the same time.
Continuum can be docked with a wired connection or a wireless connection. Continuum partners mobility with productivity — for the best of both.
Have you ever thought about how much time and money you spend printing out and mailing physical checks to pay vendors and bills? And have you wished for a way to avoid all those steps?
Deluxe has an app for that. Deluxe, the company known for decades for its security check forms, has a product called eChecks that allows you to email a check to a payee. You simply enter the payee details and amount, hit a few buttons, and email a check to the recipient. The recipient prints off the check and takes it to their bank to deposit or cash, just like any regular check.
Over 99 percent of banks today accept Deluxe eChecks, according to Deluxe representatives Randy Rein and Jeremy Johnson, who were working the Deluxe exhibitor booth at Envision. Rein added that they are working on getting the remaining small number of banks to accept eChecks.
Johnson said that eChecks integrate with many accounting packages, including QuickBooks, to further reduce manual work and increase productivity.
The benefits of emailed checks are significant to businesses. You eliminate the paper costs, postage costs and labor of creating and mailing physical checks. And it saves time. Johnson gave the example of one customer that ran 6,200 checks in nine minutes, a task that normally took hours.
eChecks are very secure, Deluxe representatives assured me. Each eCheck has built-in security that allows it to be cashed only once. Each eCheck costs 48 to 50 cents per check.
A number of manufacturers have come out with ruggedized devices in recent years but it was interesting to see some real-life applications from Microsoft partners using Windows 10.
On display was the Getac RX10 Rugged Tablet (pictured above), designed for use by medical professionals. Nurses and doctors can pick the device up by its built-in handle to carry it with them or hang it when necessary. The case is in white and light blue so that any contaminants on the case will show up clearly alerting the user it should be cleaned. The exterior is designed to withstand sanitizing.
The Getac RX10 features a 10.1-inch display, but does not sacrifice flexibility for durability. At just 0.74 inches thick and weighing only 2.65 lbs. it still features 8 GB of memory and 128 GB of storage with Windows 10. And with its 8 hours of battery life, it can serve users well on the go.
Another set of ruggedized devices is the Toughpad line by Panasonic, with durable cases for field work. This line includes the Toughpad FZ-M1, a durable tablet featuring a 7-inch screen, 4 GB of memory, 128 GB of storage and 8 hours of battery life, but is ready to go anywhere weighing just 1.2 lb.
Its little brother, the Touchpad FZ-F1, is smaller with just a 4.7-inch screen, 2 GB of memory and 16 GB of storage but still has the same 8 hours of battery life for doing business on the go. And at 0.61 lbs., it’s even lighter to carry with you.
Sensoria Wearable Tech
At the show, I had a chance to sit down with Davide Vigano (pictured), the co-founder and CEO of Sensoria, makers of wearable tech. He spoke on a panel indicating how his company runs its application on Microsoft’s cloud platform, Azure.
Sensoria makes its own line of sports products with sensors embedded in them, to be used with the accompanying Sensoria Fitness mobile app. Think of it as Internet of Things meets clothing. The clothing items, such as socks, T-shirts and sports bras, are completely washable and able to withstand hard physical exercise.
The apparel, Vigano said, appeals to runners in particular. It monitors heart rate as well as sending information back about the runner’s gait to help fitness enthusiasts enhance their performance using advanced data points about step cadence, foot landing, and other information.
In addition to its own line of sports apparel, Sensoria also works with developer partners that incorporate Sensoria’s sensor technology into third-party applications. One partner Vigano mentioned is a startup by three brothers from Maine, the Semle brothers, who have developed an Alzheimer’s support application that monitors patients suffering with the disease, using Sensoria’s technology.
Anita Campbell is reporting from the event live as a Microsoft small business ambassador.