Microsoft Garage Revs Up Cross-Platform Consumer Apps

Microsoft continues to look beyond Windows with a bevy of new apps, including a major time-saver for Android phones and a new way to search with a Google smartwatch.

Microsoft Garage

Microsoft is replacing "O.K., Google" with a twist of the wrist for Google smartwatch wearers.

The company has launched a new consumer app hub called Microsoft Garage, an offshoot of Office Labs, that features software for a variety of mobile operating systems, Google wearables and even the Xbox One. Offerings include an app called Torque that allows users to search Bing by simply rotating their smartwatches instead of speaking the customary "O.K., Google" greeting to trigger the microphone.

Microsoft Garage "represents Microsoft's evolving culture," wrote Microsoft writer Suzanne Choney in a company blog post, "where experimentation is encouraged, failure is an option, apps are platform-agnostic" and fast-tracking them to customers is part of the company's efforts to commercialize its innovations, many stemming from Microsoft Research. "The Garage's mantra is 'Doers, not talkers,'" she added.

Another Android-flavored app now available is Next Lock Screen, which aims to cut down the number of times smartphone users have to unlock their devices in a day. The app, developed by MJ Lee, group program manager of Microsoft Digital Life and Work Development in Beijing, "was inspired by a study that found, on average, a mobile device is unlocked 120 times a day to do mostly repetitive tasks," said Choney.

Next Lock Screen offers Android users some of the functionality provided by Windows Phone's Live Tiles, Microsoft's self-updating answer to app icons. Choney explained that the software, which runs on Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and above, allows users to "see information on their phone screen that might be vital to them at the right time—showing critical information for their next meeting or whether a spouse called—without having to unlock the display, something that is now done repetitively every day by users so they can see such information."

Journeys & Notes, a commuter app for Android and soon Apple's iOS, creates anonymized communities among users of mass transport, allowing them to share tips and stories during their commutes. "The app's algorithm connects people with similar commutes, based on their origin, destination and distance," said Choney. Another social-enabled app, called Floatz (Windows Phone), lets locals anonymously share images and ideas to spur neighborhood-level conversations.

Collaborate, a universal Windows and Windows Phone App, creates a shared digital whiteboard. With the app, users don't need "to photograph the whiteboard or jot down notes in email. … It is a digitally authentic experience designed for sharing right from the start," Alvin Chardon, senior program manager at Microsoft's Foundry Intern Program, said in the blog post.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...