Microsoft wants to help business developers tap into the explosive growth of Microsoft Teams. At Build 2020, the company launched a Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code extension for Teams in preview, introduced new integrations between its Power Platform and Teams, and announced a custom app submission process to help IT admins. Oh, and the company dropped a long list of upcoming Teams features. We had the opportunity to speak with Bhrighu Sareen, CVP of Microsoft Teams ecosystem, to discuss it all.

Teams is the company’s Office 365 chat-based collaboration tool that competes with Slack, Facebook’s Workplace, and Google Chat. It’s also Microsoft’s fastest-growing business app ever. That was true in 2018, long before the coronavirus pandemic started juicing up numbers for remote work and learning. As of April 29, Microsoft Teams had 75 million daily active users, up 70% from 44 million daily active users six weeks prior. Those are just people who use the Teams app every day — millions more likely use it only during weekdays or infrequently.

Sareen oversees building the Microsoft Teams platform. Among other responsibilities, he helps three groups of developers build apps for Teams: corporate developers, independent software vendors (ISVs), and Microsoft partners. But they can already build apps, so what’s new at Build 2020?

“You’re right, developers can build applications,” Sareen said. “The three big buckets I’m going to talk about [are]: easier to build, seamless app discovery, and deeper user engagement.”

Easier to build

First, Microsoft announced a bunch of new Teams tools to “streamline app development.” Frankly, it seems like a jumble of overlapping additions for developers to sort through. It turns out that’s on purpose.

“A lot of platforms have a particular way to build,” Sareen said. “You have to follow that to build an application on that platform. In our mind, Teams has enabled multiple ways and welcomes developers across the board to come and build. It’s a continuum in my mind. On one end of the spectrum is native applications that people can build today for Teams. On the other end of the spectrum is the simplest, empowering, and democratizing development of applications for anybody in the company.” You probably already guessed it: The former is Visual Studio and the latter is the Power Platform.

Visual Studio

The new Visual Studio and Visual Studio Code extension lets you build project scaffolding, configure features, create app package manifest and setup hosting, and validate app packages. Why is an extension even required to build Teams apps? Sareen gave an example: Say you want to build a bot for Teams in under 10 minutes. “Having the right templates, the code samples, and all the other capabilities that you need right away at your fingertips — that’s why we invested in this,” Sareen said. “It made it a lot … easier and reduced the friction.”

Visual Studio extension for Microsoft Teams

The extension can even start the app publishing process (for yourself, to your organization’s catalog, or to the Teams app store). More on that process later.

Power Platform

Next, Microsoft unveiled Power Platform integrations with Teams that let you build low-code/no-code experiences with custom apps, workflows, bots, and dashboards for your team and customers. They’re all coming over the next two months:

  • Simplified “add to Teams” button for Power Virtual Agents (June) and Power Apps (July).
  • June: Improved Power BI sharing to Teams with a new Share to Teams button in Power. You’ll also be able to copy individual charts in a Power BI report to a Teams conversation and have the chat include a rich thumbnail preview of the chart, as well as an adaptive card allowing users to take actions on that chart.
  • July: Enhanced workflow automation with Power Automate + Teams. New triggers and actions built specifically for Teams to unlock custom message extensions, automated @mentioning, and a customized bot experience. New business process scenario templates will also be rolled out to jump-start automation development.
  • July: Power Virtual Agents brought to Teams, making it easier to create and manage low-code chatbots for Teams.

Microsoft Graph and App Studio

Then there’s the Microsoft Graph, a key component of the company’s AI strategy. The Microsoft Graph APIs for Teams have gained 24 new granular permissions for app data access authorization. Developers and admins can narrow the app’s access and scope to a specific team’s set of data, as opposed to all team data.

New Microsoft Graph APIs are also coming soon. APIs that let you create subscriptions for different event types (new/edited/deleted messages, replies, reactions, channels, and chat threads) and a simpler way to send app notifications to users across devices are coming in beta. New APIs are also coming to the v1.0 endpoint: Send channel messages, primaryChannel, fileFolder, and Shifts.

App Studio from Microsoft Teams

There are a few more tidbits worth noting. Microsoft today released App Studio version 1.4.0 for Microsoft Teams. Updates include support for app manifest schema 1.6, an advanced section in app details, an app package validation tool to run tests that extend outside the basic schema validation, and better error handling via a bot framework connection.

Microsoft Teams app mobile camera

Finally, Microsoft shared that later this year developers will be able to extend their app’s capabilities by connecting to a mobile device’s camera, location, and microphone. The company showed off a Teams bot managing expense reports using a phone’s camera.

Seamless app discovery

After developers build an app, they have to coordinate with business decision makers and IT admins to deploy it. Apparently, that workflow isn’t very smooth. Developers and admins will soon have a proper app submission process and better app management capabilities.

“Once apps get built, distributing them — doesn’t matter what platform it is — is always a bit of a pain,” Sareen said. “Especially if you’re a bigger organization, how do you ensure that it is secure, it’s compliant, and no one’s spamming everybody in your organization?”

App Submission API

Developers will soon be able to submit Teams apps to the App Submission Microsoft Graph API via App Studio, Visual Studio, Visual Studio Code, Power Apps, and SharePoint Framework. The apps will go directly to the Teams Admin Center for IT admins to review and approve.

Microsoft Teams App Submission API

“Once you build the application in your IDE, with a single click you can submit to your tenant admin,” Sareen said. “Most people in big organizations don’t even know who their tenant admin is. So this will make it easy. You just submit it, the tenant admin gets it. In the Teams Admin Center they actually verify, approve, and publish. This process will make it easier for any developer in an organization, for any workflow or business process they have built for themselves or for their work group, to share it broadly across the organization. That is the key. Because right now, every developer can build their own stuff, but it’s only limited to them.”

Microsoft Teams Admin Center

Speaking of the Teams Admin Center, IT admins will soon get new capabilities for managing Teams apps. A new Manage Apps view will show all apps in your tenants — including app certification, approval status, and licensing status.

Microsoft Teams Admin Center -- manage apps

Also, a new third-party subscription purchase experience will let you view and purchase subscriptions associated with third-party Teams apps. Custom templates will let you create pre-defined channels, tabs, and apps for your users. Finally, new Microsoft Graph API permissions will let you grant consent on behalf of the entire tenant or install an app to a specific team.

Deeper user engagement

Microsoft Teams is also getting a slew of new features rolling out now, soon, and later this year. Here is a quick rundown:

  • Now: Adaptive Cards 1.2 brings @mentions support, rich text blocks, show cards, visibility toggles, inline text buttons, and more styles and formatting options.
  • Soon: Users that have signed into Teams won’t have to sign into apps that integrate with Azure Active Directory Single Sign-On for both desktop and mobile. Developers will get a simplified authentication process through a single API call. Later this year, bots will get the same treatment.
  • Soon: Azure Active Directory Conditional Access will enable users to run apps and tabs even if their IT admin has set up conditional access policies requiring the use of a trusted device. Website tabs on Windows that use Azure AD will automatically sign you in and support device-specific conditional access policies.
  • Soon in preview: Message action support for mobile. Message actions can be triggered directly from a message and can be used to create tasks or work items following a discussion within a chat or channel.
  • Soon in preview: Resource-Specific Consent (RSC) will let Teams owners install an app for their specific team and restrict the app’s scope and access to data to only that one team. This allows team owners to make decisions versus needing the global IT admin to provision access.
  • Soon in preview: Richer card types in incoming webhooks. Full support for Adaptive Cards, including support for bot framework cards (hero, profile, lists, and more).
  • Soon in preview: Personal apps available on mobile, focusing on interactions with a single user, such as 1:1 conversational bots or personal tabs. These types of apps are already available for desktop and web.
  • Later this year: Pop-out apps and (some) channel tabs. When users need to focus on a specific app, they can open a separate window and maximize or resize the application. Simply right-click on an app to see the option to pop out or visit a tab and find the pop-out icon in the top right.

That last feature is going to change how people use Teams quite a bit:

Microsoft Teams pop-out apps and tabs

You might think that not all of these features apply to business developers. Not so.

“We want to make sure developers are successful,” Sareen said. “And developer success is around engagement and monetization. Making our partners successful is a top priority for the next 12 months for us.”

Microsoft Build 2020: read all our coverage here.