Posts tagged with "Microsoft"

Microsoft Acquires SwiftKey

No productivity app seems to be safe with Microsoft. Following a Financial Times report from yesterday, the company has confirmed they have acquired SwiftKey, makers of the popular keyboard and predictive text engine for iOS and Android:

This acquisition is a great example of Microsoft’s commitment to bringing its software and services to all platforms. We’ll continue to develop SwiftKey’s market-leading keyboard apps for Android and iOS as well as explore scenarios for the integration of the core technology across the breadth of our product and services portfolio. Moreover, SwiftKey’s predictive technology aligns with Microsoft’s investments and ambition to develop intelligent systems that can work more on the user’s behalf and under their control.

In the coming months, we’ll have more to share about how we’ll integrate SwiftKey technology with our Guinness World Record Word Flow technology for Windows. In the interim, I’m extremely excited about the technology, talent and market position SwiftKey brings to us with this acquisition, and about how this further demonstrates Microsoft’s desire to bring key apps and technologies to platforms from Windows to Android to iOS.

SwiftKey is one of the most popular third-party keyboards on both mobile OSes; on iOS, it's often relied upon by users who want a multilingual typing experience in a single keyboard. I'm interested to see how SwiftKey as a keyboard will continue on iOS – custom keyboards haven't received much attention in the past two years, and they're severely limited in how much they can integrate with the rest of the system.

Above all, SwiftKey is good tech for Microsoft. The acquisition gives them access to a large database of typing habits and patterns spanning 100 languages, and it'll likely help them build text features on desktop and mobile. Long term, it's hard to predict how Microsoft's string of mobile app acquisitions will play out, but, right now, it's clear that Microsoft is buying the best apps around.

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Office for iOS Gets New Storage Integrations

For nearly two months now, I've been using Microsoft's Office apps for my accounting and other MacStories projects; I've also begun moving my cloud file management to Box. Hence, I'm glad that Microsoft has started expanding Office's file management abilities on iOS, adding the option to import (and sync) files directly from Box in addition to Dropbox.

Microsoft's Kirk Koenigsbauer, writing on the Office blog:

Starting today, in addition to Dropbox, we’re offering all CSPP partners the opportunity to tightly integrate with Office for iOS. This integration lets users designate these partner cloud services as “places” in Office, just as they can with Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox. Users can now browse for PowerPoint, Word and Excel files on their favorite cloud service right from within an Office app. They can open, edit or create in these apps with confidence that their files will be updated right in the cloud. Users can also open Office files from their cloud storage app in Office, then save any changes directly back to the cloud. We’ll follow with other mobile platforms later this year.

Here's how it works: in Office for iOS, switch to the 'Open' section, then tap 'Add a Place' and pick Box from the list of available services. This will create a custom Box (or Dropbox) file browser in the app, allowing you to pick any file, edit it, and keep it in the 'Recent' view for easier access.

Adding Box as a source in the Word for iOS.

Adding Box as a source in the Word for iOS.

The key advantage of this native integration over opening a file with the iOS document picker is that, once added, a Box or Dropbox file will continuously sync changes between Office and the cloud, making your edits available anywhere.

As I discussed with Fraser on Canvas, while Microsoft is one of the companies that properly support document providers on iOS with open mode for files, document providers can still be finicky at a system level (for example, an "opened" file may stop communicating with the originating app occasionally), and they're slower for browsing files. The custom integration is still superior, even if it requires you to authenticate again. From my first tests today, native Box support in Word already seems more stable than the old method based on "opening" files from the Box document provider.

The other big news from the Office team today is that real-time collaboration for Office Online is now also available for documents stored in external services. This means that you will be able to co-author documents with other people even if you keep your Office files in Dropbox or Box. At this point, and given Google's shortsighted approach to iOS and collaboration in their apps, I have to ask: how long until Office gets real-time collaboration with external services on mobile too?


Outlook for iOS Gets Skype Integration

Clever addition to Outlook for iOS just rolled out by Microsoft:

Innovation is happening in the calendar this week with our latest Skype integration. Make any meeting a Skype call simply by flicking a switch, then access the call when you need to with just a tap. Now when you say "I'm joining the call now", you'll actually mean it. To give it a try, simply turn on the "Skype Meeting" switch when creating or editing an event.

The integration generates a link to a Skype call that can be launched from the calendar event in Outlook. This works best for shared calendar events, so every participant can easily join the call and start talking.

I'm a big fan of Outlook for iOS, and this is exactly what Microsoft should be doing – leveraging their services to go beyond the traditional features of email and calendar. I like what they've been doing with Outlook.

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Sunrise Becomes Part of Outlook for iOS

Big news from Microsoft today: Sunrise, the calendar platform they acquired earlier this year, will merge with the Outlook mobile app, providing the calendar backend for the app.

From the Microsoft blog:

The Sunrise team is now officially a part of the broader Outlook product team, bringing a fresh approach to calendaring and combining it with Microsoft’s deep expertise in both email and calendar. Better Outlook calendaring gives you more ability to manage your personal and professional life from a single, powerful app. Over the coming months, you’ll see richer calendar experiences come to Outlook from Sunrise—including Interesting Calendars and connections to your favorite apps and services. You will also see improvements to Outlook’s ability to create meetings while on the go and handle meetings across time zones. All of this means Outlook will eventually replace the current Sunrise app.

And here's from the Sunrise blog:

All the features you love in Sunrise are coming to Outlook soon
We are currently working on integrating all the extra features that made Sunrise so delightful to use in Outlook for iOS and Android. Expect features like Interesting Calendars, Connected Apps and our 3-day view to show up before the end of the year.

Until then, the Sunrise app will stay on the App Store, though it won't likely receive any updates.

After the acquisition news in February, I wrote:

It seems fair to assume that Microsoft will add more cloud integrations from their own ecosystem (OneNote, Exchange, perhaps Skype?), but I'm curious to see if and how Sunrise will work with Outlook, which comes with an embedded Calendar view.

Microsoft's answer eight months later is that they want to build an all-in-one email and calendar app that also supports connections to external apps and services. For context, Sunrise currently works with data from Todoist, Evernote, Songkick, Asana, and more. In theory, all these integrations could also be coming to Outlook, which would make it the most "open" calendar and email client on the App Store in terms of third-party (cloud) integrations.

I have mixed feelings about the all-in-one approach, at least for now. Today's update to Outlook for iOS (which I have been using as my go-to client for the past month) brings a cleaner look and native Watch app, but the Sunrise integration is half-baked and there's a lot of work to do. The Calendar view of Outlook has been refreshed with a more polished UI and a new monthly view, but none of the features that made Sunrise great – event icons, integrations, the keyboard, and the fantastic date picker – are available yet. Basically, Microsoft has announced their intention to bring Sunrise to Outlook, without any deep Sunrise integration in the actual app yet.

When the transition from Sunrise to Outlook is complete, will it be too much for a single app? Are we really going to get the real Sunrise alongside our email, or a watered-down version lacking the many small touches which made Sunrise an elegant and powerful standalone calendar app? On the other hand, if anyone can make email smarter thanks to integrations and fresh ideas, that's the Sunrise team. I want to be optimistic.

Also, don't forget about Wunderlist, which Microsoft also acquired this year. Currently, support for "tasks" in Outlook is marked as planned in the app's community section where users can vote and suggest new features. I wonder what's going to happen there.


OneNote for iPad Gets Pencil by FiftyThree Support

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:

Microsoft might be backing Apple's new Pencil for the iPad Pro in its iOS apps, but the software giant is also supporting third-party options. One of the most popular is Pencil by FiftyThree, and Microsoft is updating its OneNote for iPad app today to support the stylus. If you're not interested in buying the larger iPad Pro for stylus support, then FiftyThree's Pencil starts at $39.95 (much less than Apple's $99 Pencil). You'll be able to use the stylus to write notes and comments in OneNote books.

Also in the latest update: keyboard shortcuts on iPad, and improvements to the app's share extension when used in Split View. I like how Microsoft continues to blend into the iOS ecosystem, though I'm perfectly satisfied with Apple's new Notes app.

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Office Apps for iPad Pro to Require Office 365 Subscription

Writing for Ars Technica, Peter Bright reports that the iPad Pro version of Office for iOS won't offer the same free tier available for smaller iPads, which was later confirmed by Microsoft to the publication.

The Office apps on the current iPads offer both viewing and editing documents for free. A handful of features require Office 365 subscriptions, available as in-app purchases, but the core editing capabilities are all zero cost.

Install those same apps on the iPad Pro once it arrives in November, however, and all those editing features will go away. Office on the iPad Pro will require an Office 365 subscription for any and all editing.

This is part of Microsoft's “cut-off” policy that identifies devices above 10.1 inches as computers that are too big to get the Office apps for free. I'm curious to see how they'll handle this in the same app for multiple iPads.

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Microsoft Acquires Wunderlist

In a blog post, popular task management service Wunderlist has announced they've been acquired by Microsoft. Wunderlist, like Sunrise, will remain an “independent” app for now, but it'll likely be more closely tied to Microsoft services in the future.

Here's Wunderlist CEO Christian Reber on the company's blog:

Over the next few months as Wunderlist becomes a part of the Microsoft family, we’ll introduce a host of new features, continue growing the ecosystem of partner integrations and progress in delivering Wunderlist to billions of people. We are excited and can’t wait to share with you what we have been working on–watch this space!

The Microsoft blog has also motivated the acquisition and shared details about pricing going forward:

The addition of Wunderlist to the Microsoft product portfolio fits squarely with our ambition to reinvent productivity for a mobile-first, cloud-first world. Building on momentum for Microsoft Office, OneNote and Skype for Business, as well as the recent Sunrise and Acompli acquisitions, it further demonstrates Microsoft’s commitment to delivering market leading mobile apps across the platforms and devices our customers use – for mail, calendaring, messaging, notes and now tasks.

And:

Customers can expect the app to remain free in all of its existing markets. There will be no price changes for Wunderlist Pro or Wunderlist for Business customers and the service will continue to support a wide range of third-party apps and integrated services.

As I tweeted yesterday, I believe Microsoft has been doing some interesting acquisitions lately and Wunderlist meets the requirements for a cross-platform app that can integrate with other apps and services. Like Sunrise, Wunderlist has an API that allows other services and developers to plug into its platform to access a user's tasks and projects – like Slack and Scanbot. Wunderlist wanted to build an ecosystem of apps for your todo list, and it's easy to see how Microsoft could benefit from it.

More importantly, Wunderlist already integrates with Sunrise, allowing you to see tasks alongside calendar events natively.

I'm curious to see for how long Microsoft will keep these two apps as standalone services that don't have the Microsoft brand or only work with Microsoft services. Sunrise, for instance, also supports Todoist, one of Wunderlist's biggest competitors. Will Microsoft keep this third-party friendly approach as it keeps controlling more apps?

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Microsoft Bringing Cortana to iPhone Later This Year

In a blog post today, Microsoft announced a 'Phone Companion' app built into Windows 10 (which is coming out this summer) to easily transfer content (like documents and photos) to Android and iOS devices.

They also revealed that Cortana, the company's voice assistant, will be released on iPhone “later this year”.

The Cortana app can do most of the things Cortana does on your PC or on a Windows phone. You can have Cortana remind you to pick up milk the next time you’re at the grocery store, and then your phone will wake up and buzz with the reminder. You’ll be able to track a flight using Cortana on both your phone and your PC, and get the updates on the device that you’re on so you don’t miss anything. Everything in Cortana’s Notebook will show up across all your devices and any changes you make on one device will be reflected when you use Cortana on any of your other devices. The Cortana companion app will help you complete tasks you begin on your PC wherever you are, on your phone.

Microsoft already notes that, due to limitations on iOS and Android, they won't be able to port features such as launching apps and voice activation with “Hey Cortana”. Like other big companies, Microsoft has built a solid ecosystem of apps on the App Store, and it'll be interesting to see how limited Cortana will be as an iPhone app and how it'll compare to future versions of Siri and Google Now.

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No Ecosystem Is an Island: Google, Microsoft, Facebook & Adobe’s iOS Apps

Apple doesn't make a single Android or Windows Phone app, and makes barely anything for Windows. But Apple's reluctance to develop on other platforms hasn't stopped Google and Microsoft from bringing their own apps across to iOS. That shouldn't be any surprise at all, given the different business strategies the three take. But what might be surprising is the extent to which Google and Microsoft have committed to bringing apps to iPhone and iPad users.

You are no doubt aware of the big apps from Microsoft (Word, Outlook and Minecraft) and Google (Gmail, Maps, Calendar), but the reality is that these two companies alone have over 150 apps available on the iOS App Store today. For good measure, I've also taken a look at the iOS development efforts from Adobe and Facebook, which are also significant.

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