In a move that can be considered radical, Microsoft expanded its Garage project today. It’s a program inside Microsoft campus where the company gives its employees free hours to work on ideas they have. The employees are very welcome to develop anything, and that includes making apps for the company’s rival platforms Android and iOS.
The company is today allowing outsiders (you and me) to have a look at what projects its employees have been working on for lately. We will get to that in a bit. Let’s first appreciate the company’s move. Microsoft Garage is a program that started back in 2009. In the beginning it was mostly about Office related innovations, however things have expanded dramatically since. Today, the program has over 10,000 Microsoft employees signed in who are working on to make consumer oriented apps. “It does represent a new direction for the company,” said Jeff Ramos, the manager of Microsoft Garage. “We’re evolving our culture, wanting to get better with experimentation.”
And if you thought this was also one of Satya Nadella’s vision, you are quite right. Nadella does play a key role in this. And it isn’t really surprising at all. Nadella knows that by making its services available on other platforms, the company is only tapping into a bigger market. Under his realm, the company announced the Office productivity suite for iPad earlier this year. “I think that the garage is just a really good fit with the culture change that Satya is driving for the company,” said Ramos. “There’s been a bit of history of us doing cross-platform,” said Microsoft’s Lawrence Ripsher. “We’ve had a good history of launching cross-platform.” And he’s right. We have seen several apps recently that have had their clients available on other platforms as well.
Among the first batch of apps that Microsoft talked about today include Next Lock Screen, and Journeys and Notes apps for Android. The company also announced Torque, an app for Android Wear smartwatches, and Voice Commander for Xbox One. Now, let’s talk about them.
The Next Lock Screen app as the name suggests will allow you to lock your Android’s screen. It fills your screen with a bunch of useful information including, missed calls, emails, text messages, and calendar items. One can swipe on the screen to bring the dialer and quickly initiate a conference call. Additionally, it also has a quick way for launching apps. The main idea behind this app is to get rid of the requirement of having to enter the password over and over again to check simple things. “It’s a time-saver lock screen built for busy people,” explains Microsoft. “We saw there were a number of lockscreen apps, but none were focused on the productivity user,” explains Microsoft’s Lawrence Ripsher.
The Journeys & Notes app, on the other hand is a personal diary app of sorts designed specifically for people who love traveling. It provides you tips from travelers who have previously taken the same route. From the first impression, it seems pretty similar to Foursquare and Swarm apps.
Tired of saying “OK Google” all the time to get basic things done from your Android Wear-powered smartwatch? Torque is here to fix that. With this app all a user has to do is lift the arm and twist the wrist and talk to Bing. Ask it anything. Really. “What’s the weather going to be tomorrow?” “How tall is Obama?” “How’s the stock market doing today?”
Microsoft also released an app called Voice Commander for its gaming console Xbox One. Here’s how it describes it, “A fast paced, space themed, RTS and top-down shooter combo. Pick up a controller and work with Vox using voice commands to try to stop relentless attacks. Voice Commander can be played with up to eight controllers, and anyone in the room can issue voice commands.”