The new Microsoft is not like the old Microsoft. Under Satya Nadella, the venerable tech giant is opening up to competing platforms, Android included.
As part of its Garage initiative (think Google’s 20% time), Microsoft has announced today the release of two new Android apps and an Android Wear app, joining the dozens of applications that Microsoft already has in the Play Store.
The most interesting is Next Lock Screen, a lock screen replacement geared towards productivity. “We saw there were a number of lockscreen apps, but none were focused on the productivity user,” said Microsoft’s Lawrence Ripsher. Next Lock Screen is all about getting things done fast, though at least for now, the number of things you can accomplish is rather limited. Your calls, texts, and calendar appointments are displayed as a list, and you can swipe each item to act on it (call back, dismiss, etc.)
Microsoft highlights the ability to quickly join a conference call, which is useful, but unlikely to interest many users.
Next Lock Screen also lets you quickly access your favorite apps and settings, as well as organize them in work, home, and on-the-road categories. The lock screen does not learn which apps to show on its own, though given the focus on speed and efficiency, user-set preferences are probably preferable anyway.
Microsoft’s new launcher features a nice, if not special design, without many bells and whistles. If you use a PIN or password to secure your device, swiping Next Lock Screen away takes you to the default lock screen, which is both a convenience (you see your stuff right away) and a potentially privacy problem, since your notifications and calendar entries are not protected by a PIN.
The other two apps released by Microsoft Garage are Journeys & Notes, a travel log that resembles Foursquare in functionality, and Torque, an Android Wear app that lets you access Bing’s voice search with just a twist of your hand. So instead of lifting your hand and saying “OK, Google” to use Google Now, you flick your wrist and use Cortana. It’s a neat idea, but we doubt many users will ditch Google Now in favor of Microsoft’s competing offer – still, we can’t blame Microsoft for experimenting.
Next Lock Screen, Journeys & Notes, and Torque are all available in the Play Store for free. It appears that availability is limited to North America.