Microsoft isn't stopping its invasion of the workplace with this week's official launch of its more collaborative Office 2016 suite for Windows. Now the software maker is tackling meetings with a new app for Apple's iPhone called Invite.
Hailing from Microsoft Garage, an internal fast-track, cross-platform app development unit, Invite helps users organize meetings when their responsibilities take them away from their desks. The app was created by the same team behind Send and the Tossup event-planning and opinion-gathering app.
"Invite is designed to overcome the biggest obstacle when scheduling meetings—not being able to see the calendars of attendees outside your organization," wrote the Microsoft Outlook team in a blog post announcing the app's availability. "As a result, your proposed meeting can be repeatedly declined until you find a time that works."
The app cuts down on the back and forth that often results when trying to coordinate meeting times.
"Invite simplifies this by letting organizers suggest multiple times that work for them and attendees can pick from those suggestions," wrote the company's bloggers. "Invite also shows everyone what times other people have said are good for them."
Users suggest times that fit into their schedules and then invite anyone with an email address. While the app works a little more seamlessly with Office 365 business and school plans, it "also works great with any email—Outlook.com, Gmail and Yahoo Mail included," contends Microsoft. "With Invite you won't have to worry about whether attendees are inside or outside your organization, what platform they're on, or whether they have less important meetings squatting on valuable calendar space."
An email or app notification alerts potential attendees that they have a pending invitation. They can then accept the invitation or propose new times. Once everyone is on board, the meeting organizer can select the best time that works for everyone and send formal calendar invites.
The entire process works a little more smoothly in organizations with Office 365 setups.
In an FAQ, Microsoft explained that when signing up "using an Office 365 business or school subscription, a list of your frequent contacts are displayed—so you can invite relevant people quickly and easily. Attendees will also see everything as coming directly from you, and will be able to directly accept or decline the meeting like a regular Exchange meeting request." Invitations sent to non-Office 365 accounts take the form of an email with an iCalendar (.ics) file.
And while seemingly similar to the Send Availability feature in the Outlook mobile apps for iOS and Android, Invite adds an additional dash of automation. "You suggest times that work, attendees choose the times that work for them, and their responses are automatically summarized for you," Microsoft explained. "No need to cross-reference potential meeting times yourself."
Currently, Invite is available for the iPhone in the U.S. and Canada. Versions for Windows Phone and Android phones are in the works.