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Microsoft opens Garage door, shows off experimental apps

The Garage incubator releases apps for Windows Phone and Android that range from giving you reports on air quality in China to connecting you to conference calls using voice commands.


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Some of Microsoft Garage's latest projects. Screenshot by Michelle Meyers/CNET

In October 2014, Microsoft announced that the Microsoft Garage was morphing from an internal hacking lab to an incubator for lightweight, consumer-focused apps for Android, iOS and Windows devices.

Microsoft on Wednesday made available a handful of new experimental Garage apps, several of which are more business-centric and productivity-focused.

Among the new, free Garage apps, ready for testers to download:

  • DevSpace, available on Windows Phone, helps Visual Studio Online developers work and manage their projects more efficiently.
  • Join Conference, available on Windows Phone, makes it easier to dial into conference calls with just one button or one voice command.
  • Keyboard for Excel, available on Android, replaces a device's keyboard with one optimized for Excel, delivering speed and efficiency when trying to create lists and enter numbers on an Android device.
  • Your Weather, available on Windows Phone in Chinese market, brings personalized fine-grained and predictive air quality and weather reports for Chinese cities to the phone.
  • SquadWatch, available on Windows Phone, shows users where the people they care most about are right now and what they are doing in real time.
  • Picturesque Lock Screen, available on Android in the U.S. and India, brings the Bing home page images to the Android lock screen along with several other key features like search, news, calendars, and weather without unlocking the phone.

Microsoft also updated the previously released Torque app (now version 2.5), which extends the Bing Search Assistant for Android from the Android Wear watch to the phone.

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The Microsoft Garage started out in 2009 as part of Office Labs. At that time, it was designed to enable employees to "embrace their inner innovator and explore grassroots projects, mostly as side projects," in the words of Jeff Ramos, manager of The Garage.

But now The Garage's new mission is to bring these kinds of side-project apps, as well as apps from other parts of the company, including Microsoft Research, available externally through the revamped Garage portal.

The Garage apps are cross-platform, available in the Apple App Store, Google Play and/or Windows Store, where applicable. The Garage apps are all in the "experimental" phase, and are updated and improved based on user experience and feedback.

This story was first published as "Microsoft Garage incubator delivers new Windows Phone, Android productivity apps" on ZDNet.