"Dev-friendly" APIs and SDKs in New Azure Service Simplify Building Rich Communication Experiences

Microsoft this week unveiled the public preview of a new platform for developers who want a simple and well-supported way to build new communications solutions or integrate them into existing applications. Redmond is billing its Azure Communication Services as the first fully managed communication platform offered by a major cloud provider, and a practical response to the advent of a "remote-first world."

The new platform, announced at this week's Ignite online conference, was designed to make it easy for developers to add voice and video calling, chat, and SMS text message capabilities to their mobile apps, desktop applications, and websites with just a few lines of code, explained Scott Van Vliet, Corporate VP of Microsoft's Intelligent Communications group, in a blog post. The platform's "developer friendly APIs and SDKs" make it easy to create personalized communication experiences quickly, he said, without having to worry about complex integrations. And these capabilities can be used on virtually any platform and device, he said.

"Every day, we find a new challenge that changes customer, developer, and business needs," Van Vliet said. "Our goal is to meet businesses where they are and provide solutions to help them be resilient and move their business forward in today's market. We see rich communication experiences… continuing to be an integral part in how businesses connect with their customers across devices and platforms..."

The new platform is built natively on the Azure cloud platform, which means that devs can build and deploy on the same low latency global communication network used by Microsoft Teams to support more than five billion meeting minutes in a single day. It also enables developers to tap into other Azure services, including Azure Cognitive Services for things like translation and sentiment analysis. Azure Cognitive Services is a developer-focused suite of AI services and cognitive APIs. Also, all communications are encrypted to meet privacy and compliance needs, such as HIPAA and GDPR, the company says.

The capabilities of Azure Communication Services are organized conceptually into six areas: Calling, Chat, SMS, Administration, Common, and Azure Resource Manager. Some of these areas are fully open-sourced client libraries. But others are currently close-source. For example, the Calling client library uses proprietary network interfaces, and the Chat library includes a closed-source dependency.

Microsoft actually began developing Azure Communication Services before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a country-wide lockdown in March. The new work-at-home environment reportedly spurred Redmond to get the preview ready for the Ignite event.

"One example of how we see Azure Communication Services come to life in this remote-first world is customer service," Van Vliet said. "Imagine a maintenance or installation call right now. There's a problem but a technician is unable to go to the customers' home. While some problems can be addressed remotely, troubleshooting over the phone can be a challenge. There aren't many tools, that are easy to use and deploy, which connect a service rep and end user over video especially built right into a company's app or home page. With Azure Communication Services, integrating voice and video calling into a multichannel communication experience is simple.

Azure Communication Services APIs and SDK are available on GitHub. The platform is currently in public preview, which means it's has been made available without a service-level agreement, and Microsoft does not recommended it for production workloads, because some features might not be supported or might have "constrained capabilities."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].