Office Remote: Getting Better and Better

Office Remote: Getting Better and Better

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Posted by Rob Knies

Office Remote logo

In November, Microsoft announced the availability for download of Office Remote, the product of collaboration between Microsoft Research and the Microsoft Office engineering team that enables a number of useful features for those delivering business presentations.

Office Remote transforms a Windows Phone 8 device into a presentation-management tool. Users can use it to interact with Office on their PCs, enabling them to control Word, Excel, and PowerPoint from across a room. Presenters are then free to walk freely while talking. They can start PowerPoint, advance slides, see speaker notes, and deploy an on-screen laser pointer. They also can navigate between Excel worksheets and graphs or scroll quickly through a Word document or jump to specific sections within the doc.

The response to these features has been gratifying—just ask Bert Van Hoof, particularly now that an updated version of Office Remote has become available in the Windows Phone Store.

“We love all the great feedback we received!” says Van Hoof, group program manager for Office. “In this update, the top-requested new presentation features for PowerPoint made it in.”

He provides a quick list of the new features:

  • “We added a large thumbnail of the slide currently presented, as well as a smaller preview of your next slide—and we managed to do this without impacting your notes.
  • “You now get an instant laser pointer simply by the touch of a finger.
  • “You can play and pause your embedded videos from Office Remote.”

Darren Edge, a Beijing-based researcher who worked with his Office colleagues on both the original Office Remote release and the update, provides a bit of detail.

“The new version of Office Remote gives presenters better feedback at a glance and more control at their fingertips,” Edge reports. “You can now see a thumbnail image of the current slide, reducing the need to look back at the projected slide or to walk back to the presentation PC. The same thumbnail image also provides a convenient and direct way to focus the audience’s attention—you can be holding the phone naturally in an upright position and simply move your thumb over the image to laser-point on the projected slide.

“We also provide a preview of the next slide so that you are never surprised and can always make connecting comments that help the audience follow the flow of the presentation.”

And that’s not all.

“To give presenters even more mobility,” Edge continues, “we have added playback controls to slides with embedded videos. This lets you perfectly synchronize your video playback with your speech in a way that makes your delivery feel seamless.”

These enhancements are further proof of Microsoft’s commitment to making things easier for those individuals busily attempting to manage their presentations.

“When you are giving a presentation, there are so many things you need to do at the same time,” Edge explains. “Among other things, you need to speak while thinking about what to say next, maintain eye contact with the audience while following the current slide, and measure your progress while monitoring the time remaining. Until people can do all of these things perfectly, there will always be ways in which we can help people become better presenters.

“As a researcher, I am particularly interested in how we support better rehearsal before presentations and better pacing during delivery, because as an audience member, there is nothing worse than a poor presentation that is also poorly timed.”

As additional proof of the level of engagement Edge is bringing to this work, he and a couple of colleagues will be presenting a paper during the upcoming Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, set for April 26-May 1 in Toronto, that directly pertains to the presentation-preparation scenario.

More research in the area of making presenting more pain-free is certain to follow.

“If you think about the questions that go through your mind while you are presenting—‘Is the audience following me?’ ‘Where am I going?’ and ‘How’s my timing?’—it would be great to just see the answers at a glance. Or, even better, to be able to feel when things are not going to plan using haptic feedback from the device itself, so you only glance at the mobile screen when you need to.

“Thinking about how to make use of multiple devices to support higher-level activities, it would also be very helpful to control and customize your desktop presenter view from your handheld Office Remote, for example, by scrolling through large, auto-cue-like notes on the larger display. Of course, if these notes could advance automatically based on what you say, that would be cool. But we don’t want to encourage people to mindlessly read a script word for word.”

Creating technological solutions that enable new functionalities is one thing, but, as Edge notes, they also must be user-friendly.

“Ultimately,” he concludes, “we need to combine the best technologies with the right design. That’s why, as researchers, we partner with product groups to iterate both of these over time. Office Remote is a great example of this process.”

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  • When will this work with Windows RT (Surface & Surface 2)?