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Microsoft today announced a series of new Internet of Things tools and features to make it easier for customers to build connected devices and run them on the tech giant’s cloud platform.

The uniting theme behind the new features is to make IoT, a futuristic but challenging technology, more accessible. IoT has reached a tipping point, with more mainstream customers flocking to the technology, Sam George, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Azure IoT, said in a briefing with reporters.

“You’ve seen a bunch of innovators and early adopters picking up IoT,” George said. “And what we see is that now many of the early majority customers are starting to show up. And the conversations that we have with the early majority customers are much different than we had with the innovators.”

George cited a recent IoT survey from Microsoft that found 88 percent of the business owners saw the technology as critical to their future success. However, nearly half of them cited a lack of skilled workers to build IoT solutions as a hurdle to embracing the technology. That’s a big reason why simplicity and accessibility has become a focal point of Microsoft’s IoT efforts.

Here’s a look at some of the key announcements from Microsoft this morning. George published a blog post with a full rundown of the new features.

  • Microsoft added 11 industry-specific application templates to help companies in areas like retail, healthcare, government and energy build IoT devices and applications. To even further simplify the process, Microsoft is offering an IoT Plug and Play tool for rapid device deployment.
  • Azure Sphere, the Linux-based operating system for IoT apps first announced in 2018, will be generally available February 2020.
  • A new partnership with AccuWeather brings weather data to Azure Maps, Microsoft’s tool for building maps and geospatial data into devices and applications.
  • Microsoft plans to overhaul its pricing for IoT services early next year, which it says will be more predictable as partners and customers increase usage.
  • Azure Time Series Insights, Microsoft’s IoT analytics tool, is getting several new features, including new ways to store and access data and the ability to more quickly scale across a large company.

IoT has become an important priority for Microsoft. The number of devices connected to the company’s Azure IoT platform has spiked nearly 150 percent year-over-year, the company said.

Microsoft in 2018 committed to spend $5 billion over four years on IoT projects to make the complicated technology more available to businesses of all sizes and levels of technical expertise. Microsoft said it has launched more than 100 new IoT tools and features since then.

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