In case you missed the announcement from Microsoft during their 2020 Ignite conference, Azure Communication Services (ACS) is now launched in public preview.

ACS is providing the same network that underlies Microsoft Teams for any application or website, and integrated capabilities that include:

  • VOIP calls
  • PSDN voice telephone calls
  • Video calls
  • Content sharing (file transfer, screensharing)
  • SMS
  • Text chat

The key advantage here is not only that all of this capability exist under a single, secure platform, but that you can switch between the types of communication seamlessly, providing an incredibly low-friction user experience for your customers. Moving between web, mobile, and IoT within the same user session, is very doable. For a short real-world demo, see the video below (skip to minute 3:50 for the demo):

So you may be asking: How does this affect software product design?

Designing a user experience across physical devices

For many software products, such as web or mobile applications, a user’s session is conducted within a single device. For instance, if you’re using Facebook or LinkedIn, you’re either on the web app or the mobile app at a time (a session). Rarely do you need to move from the web app to the mobile app or vice versa in a single session. From a design perspective, the user experience (UX) for the mobile app is confined to the mobile app, and likewise for the web app.

However, there are circumstances when switching between devices in the same user session would be the best user experience. In fact, to date it’s been a capability so far fetched that we unconsciously write it off as not-doable, and move on to next-best alternatives.

The demonstration in the video above is a great example: during a refrigerator support call the customer moves from a text chat on the laptop to the phone for a video call. No mobile app to download. It’s a seamless hand off. You can even imagine if the support rep needs the serial number, it could be as easy as scanning the QR code during the call. The customer also needs the manual? Transfer the PDF through the same mobile experience to the customer.

How does the same refrigerator repair service play out today? In the best of all cases, you (the customer) receive a telephone call-back from a technician. It’s a voice call (no video), and if you have pictures to send, you have to take them on your phone, and upload to their non-responsive website from your phone. This won’t happen in real time, so you’ll have to wait for another call back, or email from the company. The customer has a slew of stunted, high-friction user experiences, each slowly moving the customer towards the goal, but always with the uneasy feeling that he’s get lost in the system here. Assuredly this is not the experience the brand desires.

Unified, real-time user experience

When it comes to designing communication-heavy software products, ACS allows us to think about unified user experiences, happening in real time across physical devices (as needed) for your users. This becomes a game changer because the heavy lifting is handled by ACS, and we collaborate with your development team to ensure the planned user experiences are performant through a proof of concept versus costly development-heavy implementations or timely multi-service integrations.