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Posts tagged with "Microsoft"

Microsoft Launches ‘Flow’ Preview for Web Automation

Microsoft has entered the web automation space with Flow, a new service currently in public preview that aims to connect multiple web apps together. Microsoft describes Flow as a way to "create automated workflows between your favorite apps and services to get notifications, synchronize files, collect data, and more".

From the Microsoft blog:

Microsoft Flow makes it easy to mash-up two or more different services. Today, Microsoft Flow is publicly available as a preview, at no cost. We have connections to 35+ different services, including both Microsoft services like OneDrive and SharePoint, and public software services like Slack, Twitter and Salesforce.com, with more being added every week.

I took Flow for a quick spin today, and it looks, for now, like a less powerful, less intuitive Zapier targeted at business users. You can create multi-step flows with more than two apps, but Flow lacks the rich editor of Zapier; in my tests, the web interface crashed often on the iPad (I guess that's why they call it a preview); and, in general, 35 supported services pales in comparison to the hundreds of options offered by Zapier.

Still, it's good to see Microsoft joining this area and it makes sense for the new, cloud-oriented Microsoft to offer this kind of solution. Flow doesn't have the consumer features of IFTTT (such as support for home automation devices and iOS apps) or the power of Zapier (which I like and use every day), but I'll keep an eye on it.


Microsoft Brings Another Keyboard to iOS

Microsoft is on a roll with iOS keyboards. Just over two weeks ago, Microsoft’s Garage project released Hub, which has tight integrations with Office 365. Today, Microsoft Garage released another keyboard called Word Flow, which is based on the Windows Phone keyboard from Windows Phone 8.1. According to The Verge, Microsoft had promised a public beta period for Word Flow, but skipped that step.

There are multiple options for interacting with Word Flow. Once installed, you can use it in one-handed mode where the keyboard can be displayed in an arc on the left or right side of the keyboard area. Alternatively, you can use a traditional keyboard layout.

In either case, Word Flow accepts both swiping and tapping input and has a strong predictive algorithm that anticipates the words you intend to type. In my limited tests, the one-handed mode was helpful for typing on my iPhone 6s Plus one handed and the predictive input was solid, though it didn’t seem to recognize its own name, failing to capitalize ‘flow’ in the screenshots above. Of course, for the predictive feature to work, you need to grant Word Flow full access to your keyboard input, which not everyone will be comfortable doing.

Word Flow also lets you set backgrounds behind your keyboard, including ones that are built into the app or your own photos. Personally, I think the backgrounds are ugly and distracting, but fortunately you can use Word Flow without a background.

Microsoft Word Flow is available on the App Store for free.

Update: Microsoft Word Flow is a US English keyboard and is only available in the US App Store.


Microsoft Launches Hub Keyboard for iOS

Microsoft has been on a roll on iOS lately. In addition to the news from the Outlook team that Sunrise integrations are coming back as Calendar Apps for Outlook on iOS, Microsoft Garage, its experimental apps project, launched an iOS keyboard called Hub.

Hub, which has a nice clean design, is tightly integrated with Microsoft Office 365. Hub has an extra row at the top of the keyboard that lets you paste from a clipboard history, your contacts, or your OneDrive and Sharepoint documents. Hub, which is a free download on the App Store, can also help you translate what you type into other languages.

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Microsoft Bringing Back Sunrise Integrations as Calendar Apps for Outlook

Since Microsoft acquired Sunrise last year and began the process of integrating it with Outlook, I've been wondering when they'd bring back the popular third-party integrations of Sunrise. That became clear today with the launch of three Calendar Apps for Outlook on iOS – Wunderlist (obviously), Facebook, and Evernote.

Here's the Outlook team, writing on the company blog:

This is why we are launching Calendar Apps for Outlook on iOS and Android. With Calendar Apps, you can connect your apps—Wunderlist, Facebook and Evernote to start with—to see all your tasks, events and notes from your digital life in one place: your Outlook calendar. By connecting your calendar with a wide range of services, Outlook will be able to provide you with a far better view of your day, week and months ahead.

Those of you who use and love Sunrise will be familiar with this capability. Since the Sunrise team joined Outlook, we’ve been hard at work bringing all the goodness and extra features from their app directly into our calendar to give you a single, powerful app for managing your personal and professional life. Calendar Apps, along with a two-week mini-calendar, three-day view and iOS calendar widget, have already made it to Outlook, with Connected Calendars up next.

Smart move, and something I don't see Apple doing either. I hope they'll open up the platform to more services soon.

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Apple Is Selling Microsoft Office 365 as an Accessory for the iPad Pro

James Vincent, writing for The Verge:

Apple wants the iPad Pro to replace Windows, and to convince customers it's bringing in a familiar face or two: Microsoft's Office Suite. As part of the ordering process for the new iPad Pro, buyers are given the option of adding a subscription for Office 365 — the only non-Apple accessory to appear in the order form. Office 365 bundles in the mobile apps and full Mac versions of a number of old standbys, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. (You can also choose between the Home, Personal, and University tiers, each of which offers different features.)

The Microsoft Office apps for iOS are easily some of the best apps available, particularly for the iPad. Whilst they aren't yet at feature parity with their Windows and Mac counterparts, they are remarkably close in many respects. I've been using the Word, OneNote and Excel iPad apps extensively in the recent weeks, and I have been really happy with how they work.

It is worth noting that Microsoft Office is actually free to use on the 9.7" iPad Pro, but requires an Office 365 subscription if you want to edit documents on the 12.9" iPad Pro. This disparity is because of Microsoft's rather odd policy in which Office is free to use on any device with a display smaller than 10.1" - but for devices with a larger screen, an Office 365 subscription is required.

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Microsoft Builds Evernote Importer for OneNote

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

Today Microsoft announced a new Evernote importer app that lets you bring your Evernote data into its excellent OneNote application. If you’ve been thinking of leaving Evernote—especially if you’re already paying for Office 365, so you’re paying for OneNote—it’s worth considering.

Unfortunately, the tool currently only runs on Windows. Typical Microsoft. Fortunately, a Mac version is on the way “in the coming months.”

First Apple, now Microsoft. I wonder if Evernote is starting to regret adding the export option.

(I also wonder how much these import solutions are going to impact Evernote, and if they'll decide to turn exporting off eventually.)

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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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