A new app from Microsoft Garage, a mobile software development unit within the Redmond, Wash., giant that focuses on experimental and small-scale apps, has released a new multitasking keyboard app for Android. Dubbed the Hub Keyboard, the app bundles a handful of tools that reduce the need to switch between apps to complete certain actions, helping users stay focused on the task at hand.
"With Hub Keyboard, you can copy and paste recent items, easily search and share documents, share contact information, and instantly translate parts of messages," Athima Chansanchai, a Microsoft spokesperson, wrote in a Feb. 23 blog post. "All of these tasks are integrated into the keyboard, and you can choose which ones you want to use in any app that requires a keyboard."
Hub Keyboard is the brainchild of Steve Won, a senior designer in the Microsoft Office group. "Personally, I don't like switching between apps to do different things on my smartphone," said Won in the blog post. "But all these different apps on a smartphone, they have to conform to rules of a keyboard and that got me thinking about the project as an interesting idea I wanted to explore more. We're giving users a wider gamut of tools."
As a component of the user interface that is commonly shared between apps, the on-screen keyboard emerged as an ideal foundation on which to layer additional functionality and create a productivity-enhancing experience for users.
In a brief YouTube video, Microsoft demonstrates how Hub Keyboard can be used to paste text from a history of copied items or search and share documents residing on the company's OneDrive cloud file storage service or SharePoint. Users also can instantly translate text into another language and access contacts stored on the phone or Office 365 account.
"I may be in a text message conversation, then have to jump to contacts for a phone number. Rather than forcing users to switch between apps, we bring those apps to them," said Won.
Hub Keyboard began as a personal project in March 2015. Exemplifying Microsoft Garage's startup-like culture, the app got its beginning as an internal hackathon entry before swelling to a seven-person software development team. "I'm a designer and I knew just enough coding to put together a prototype to convey my vision, but to make it more stable and solid, I needed more help on the engineering side," said Won, adding that he "never imagined shipping code as a designer."
The app comes on the heels of another Android app from Microsoft Garage called Sprightly that eases small and midsize business users into the world of social and mobile marketing.
Released yesterday, Sprightly is a template-driven app that gathers and organizes product images and related content into professional-quality flyers, price lists and catalogs that render well on mobile devices. Collages created by Sprightly can be shared on Facebook and WhatsApp.