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The Week in Mobile: March 27 – April 2, 2016

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Microsoft’s “conversation as a platform” vision, Oculus Rift ships, Uber enriches in-trip experiences and more.

Each week we round up the top news stories, think pieces and other content that centers on the fast-paced, quickly changing world of mobile technology. We tell you which companies are employing clever mobile strategies, illuminate new ways of thinking about mobile and offer a peek at meaningful trends in the industry. This content is designed to inspire you and your company to take advantage of the many benefits mobile can offer.

Microsoft’s Vision: “Conversation as a Platform”

During last week’s Build Developer Conference, Microsoft discussed the company’s vision for the future of computing in which our primary computer interface will be voice-driven digital assistants and chat bots. It’s a concept the company’s CEO Satya Nadella calls “conversation as a platform.” In its earliest stages this concept allows users to engage digital assistants, like Microsoft’s Cortana, to call on bots for booking travel or making dinner reservations. Nadella sees these “new applications” as having “as profound an impact as the previous platform shifts have had.”

As part of Microsoft’s expanded efforts in AI and chatbot technology, the company announced its Microsoft Bot Framework, which allows devs to build their own chatbots. Additionally, the company unveiled several new updates for Cortana, including lock screen access and improved integration with email and calendar apps.

Facebook Messenger as a Platform

Facebook has partnered with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to allow users to check in for their flights, receive boarding passes and flight updates, and communicate with customer service through Messenger. KLM is the first airline to integrate with the app.

Elsewhere, rumor has it that Messenger users will eventually be able use the app to make in-store purchases. Messenger software code suggests such a capability is in the works, which means users may, one day, be able to pick up a product in-store and pay for it with the app, skipping the checkout counter entirely. Facebook has yet to announce such a feature, but it’s a move that would support the company’s recent push to bring businesses onto the app.

Reviewers Celebrate Oculus Rift Release

Oculus Rift is now available for consumer purchase after years of testing. The release came just after Oculus founder Palmer Luckey made a special trip to Alaska to deliver the first device to Ross Martin, the first to pre-order a Rift back in January. Since then, a number of consumers have received theirs and the reviews thus far have been primarily positive. Most say they are impressed with the ease of use, comfort and future potential, while others are turned off by the price tag and that it requires a powerful gaming PC.

Google Makes Virtual Reality More Accessible

In order to make virtual reality content more accessible, Google introduced a developer tool called VR View, which can be used to embed 360-degree photos and videos into websites and apps. This 360-degree content can be watched on Cardboard or the Magic Window lens. Google also announced that the Cardboard SDK will now support iOS, extending Google’s VR reach to Apple devices.

Uber Enriches Ride Requests and In-Trip Content

Uber is making ride requests easier than ever with a new widget that allows developers to integrate Uber’s full capabilities into their apps. Unlike the limited functionality that comes with Uber’s ride request button, the “Ride Request Widget” brings native features to third-party apps and works in areas with limited internet access. This is thought to be a big draw for developers in China and India.

Additionally, Uber announced a new functionality for its in-ride experiences. The company has partnered with Hilton, Zomato and Citymapper to bring “Trip Branding” to users who hail an Uber through one of these apps. A user who requests a ride through the Zomato restaurant booking app will be able to peruse the restaurant’s menu from the Uber app during their trip, while someone who reserves a ride through the Hilton app will be able to check into their hotel room while on their Uber ride. “Trip Branding” will likely entice more companies to integrate Uber into their apps. It is available now for all developers.

Alphabet May Launch Echo Competitor

According to recent reports, Alphabet is developing an artificial intelligence device that would compete with Amazon’s Echo. Rumors suggest the company’s Nest division plans to bring Google’s voice recognition—which already powers Android’s virtual assistant and “Ok Google”—to a standalone device. There is no release date for the device, and it’s possible the product will never launch to consumers. However, given Google’s pre-existing voice assistant efforts and the success of Amazon Echo, it seems likely that Alphabet will move forward.

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