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Microsoft Garage gives early look at emerging apps

Now consumers can see what's coming from folks tinkering on apps inside Microsoft -- on everything from Android Wear to Xbox One.

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Microsoft's Torque takes on Google in Android Wear. Microsoft

Microsoft Garage, a project hatched in 2009 for Microsoft employees to explore their new ideas without fear of the public catching wind of them, has now gone public.

On Wednesday, the software giant officially launched Microsoft Garage for all to see, allowing consumers to try out a wide variety of test apps the company has been working on. As of this writing, there are 16 apps on Microsoft Garage that work on everything from Android Wear to the Xbox One. And they can all be downloaded on the respective platforms for users to try out.

Microsoft Garage was previously an internal project that allowed the company's employees to explore new ideas. Microsoft reasoned that if employees were allowed to toy around with such ideas, they might come up with products that could make an impact on the marketplace, and thus, the company's bottom line. Other tech companies, including Google, also encourage employees to spend time working on projects they're interested in.

"Now the idea behind The Garage is to connect our engineers and engineering projects with real customers to evaluate how technologies are being received," said Jeff Ramos, manager of Microsoft Garage, in the company's blog post Wednesday describing the expansion. "From a customer's point of view, it's a really great way to get first access to emerging technologies. And from Microsoft's point of view, it's really a great way to get real feedback from real customers on how people are using things."

It's intriguing that Microsoft Garage is platform-agnostic. Clearly, Microsoft is encouraging its employees to think beyond Windows and Windows Phone and to see how the company can provide value on other operating systems that consumers are using.

Consider the Garage app called Torque. Built for Android Wear, it aims to skirt the voice command "OK Google," which turns on a device's microphone so users make queries via Google's search engine. Instead, a simple twist of the wrist (hence the name Torque) activates the mic so that a person can make a query via Microsoft's own Bing search tool.

Among the other offerings on Microsoft Garage:

  • An Xbox One game called Voice Commander, which is a real-time strategy and top-down shooter game that works both with controllers and with voice commands.
  • An app called Next Lock Screen, aimed specifically at Android devices, which lets people see information on their phone screen without having to unlock the display.
  • An app called Journeys & Notes, designed to allow commuters on public transit to connect so they can commiserate and share tips. It will be released first for Android, then for iOS and Windows Phone devices.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.