Microsoft Teams opens its doors to third-party apps during meetings

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Microsoft is allowing third-party app developers to integrate into the Microsoft Teams meeting experience for the first time. The new developer-focused features will let apps integrate into Teams meetings during video calls, and even before and after meetings. Third-party apps will be able to display content during Microsoft Teams calls, and even display notifications during calls. It’s a big expansion of what third-party apps are able to do in Microsoft Teams right now.

“Applications can span across chat and collaboration and easily have a workflow that expands into meetings now,” explains Michal Lesiczka, a group product manager of Microsoft Teams, in an interview with The Verge.

Applications will be able to add a tab to meeting invites where Teams users can interact with the app before a meeting begins. Once a meeting begins, Teams participants will be able to pull apps into the live call. This could include bots that trigger live notifications about events while a Teams meeting is taking place or an app that shows information to participants in the sidebar. The integration also includes the ability for apps to appear as a button in the meeting controls bar.

App integration into the Microsoft Teams meeting sidebar.
Image: Microsoft

Previously, if you wanted to share an app or something more than a webcam in Microsoft Teams, the only option available was screen sharing, which isn’t always ideal if you just want to demonstrate one app or avoid notifications or privacy headaches. These new features will allow developers to extend the meetings experience beyond the basics.

Developers have wanted this type of Teams integration for a long time. “One of the key pieces of feedback is, ‘Okay, we can integrate and enable scenarios in these other areas, but in meetings, we want to be playing there as well,’” explains Archana Saseetharan, a group product manager of Microsoft Teams, in an interview with The Verge. “We are enabling new APIs and SDK capabilities for developers to integrate and target these new areas. It is the same development process, the same publishing process, the same validation process. Everything is the same, but you have these three new capabilities to go target.”

Microsoft Teams meetings also offer a history of chat, files, meeting notes, a whiteboard, and the ability to record and transcribe meetings. The addition of third-party apps means these will also be permanently linked to individual Teams meetings.

“We’ve really seen a ton of excitement about this,” says Lesiczka. “Partners have been asking us about plugging into meetings, so there’s a lot of excitement about this.” Developers will be able to start testing these new app integrations later this month, and Microsoft is already seeing interest from Polly, Open Agora, iCIMS, Miro, and HireVue for apps that will integrate into meetings.

Apps also integrate into a tab in the Teams meeting details.
Image: Microsoft

Like the flurry of other Microsoft Teams features that have been announced in recent weeks, third-party app integration has also been driven by the ongoing pandemic. “The whole focus on remote work has accelerated our delivery on this,” admits Saseetharan. Microsoft is also rolling out a new “Together Mode” that attempts to turn co-workers into virtual avatars to improve meetings.

This Together Mode combined with third-party apps in meetings could lead to an interesting future for Microsoft Teams in the era of remote working. “Every single feature that you see us announcing is to amplify meetings … we’re thinking about extensibility of all of them,” explains Saseetharan. “Everything that Teams is doing has an extensibility play to it, and how we amplify the possibilities for developers to plug more and more deeply into the product.”

If developers do plug into Microsoft Teams more deeply, we could see some innovative new ways to collaborate in future meetings. Microsoft isn’t alone in experimenting with how remote working and meetings will work in post-pandemic scenarios. Facebook also recently teased its own vision of remote work using augmented and virtual reality, and Google is rapidly integrating its disparate Chat, Rooms, and Meet communications platforms into Gmail in an effort to compete with Microsoft Teams and Slack. Even Slack is trying to reinvent the future of business communications with Slack Connect, a more powerful way for businesses to communicate and collaborate with each other.

Microsoft Teams’ new Together Mode.
GIF: Microsoft

Microsoft is moving incredibly fast to keep pace with the competition, and in many areas, combine lots of different functionality into a single app (or “hub” as Microsoft likes to call it). Saseetharan even hints that Microsoft is looking at developer interest in plugging into background effects and filters for Teams video calls.

The pandemic has been the driving force behind Microsoft Teams features in recent months, pushing the service up to 75 million daily active users. Microsoft’s main Teams video calling competitor, Zoom, has also seen huge growth, but it’s had to spend recent months rectifying controversial privacy and security issues rather than rolling out new features.

It’s clear Microsoft has taken its opportunity to push aggressively with Teams, and there’s bound to be a whole lot more Teams features before 2020 is over.

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