Want a peek at experimental new apps? Check out Microsoft Garage.

The Microsoft Garage is an experimental lab where employees can work on software projects in their spare time. If a Garage app catches on with users, it may become an official Microsoft product; if it doesn't, it may be abandoned.

Microsoft's Garage site, seen here, is a place for experimental apps employees have developed in their spare time.

Google is famous for its “20 percent time” policy, which encourages employees to spend time working on long-shot passion projects.

Since 2014, Microsoft Garage has tackled a similar idea: employees are given hardware and office space to work on whatever software projects they want in their off-duty time. This week, Microsoft Garage released its latest iOS app, a curated news reader called News Pro.

News Pro works similarly to Flipboard and the Apple News app that’s already built in to all iPhones and iPads. Users choose topics they’re interested in, such as finance or architecture, and News Pro displays articles on those topics in a colorful format. It also takes users’ job titles (gleaned from LinkedIn or Facebook) into account in trying to predict what stories they might find most interesting. News Pro also includes a “Speedy” view that shows the text of an article without ads or additional website formatting. 

Is News Pro objectively better than Flipboard or Apple News? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it won’t appeal to some people who prefer its layout and personalization options.

I found News Pro visually appealing, but was a little confused by its initial assumptions about me. From my Facebook profile, the app learned that I was a graduate student, but it used that single data point to show me stories about distance education, physics, health science, and public speaking – none of which I’m particularly interested in. It was easy to change the topics manually, but News Pro didn’t make a great first impression on me.

Microsoft Garage is a place for the company to test apps, such as News Pro, that may or may not catch on with users. If an app catches on, it may become an official Microsoft product down the road. The previous Garage release was Mimicker, a devious alarm clock that can only be shut off by performing one of several unusual tasks, such as saying a tongue twister aloud or mimicking a particular facial expression. It’s a clever way to help make sure that a person is truly awake, not just dismissing their alarm in a haze. Mimicker is powered by Microsoft’s Project Oxford library of machine learning services, which allow the app to understand speech and facial expression with a high degree of accuracy.

Microsoft has rolled other apps out of the Garage as well, include an Android contact manager called Connections and a scheduling app called FindTime, which synchronizes calendars across services so it’s easy to find meeting times that work for everyone in a group. The Verge’s Nick Statt points out that Garage apps “are often one-off projects put out in the wild and forgotten” and are seldom updated for additional platforms. But News Pro, Mimicker, and other Garage apps – or features of them – could become official Microsoft products if users really like them.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Want a peek at experimental new apps? Check out Microsoft Garage.
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today