It appears that Microsoft wants to utilize the open nature of Android OS and integrate its services right into the user interface as well as the homescreen.
With the v5.0 (later v5.1) update, Microsoft added many Windows 10-based features like Timeline, Hey Cortana, and the productivity apps support. It's a great app for anyone using an Android phone and a Windows computer as a daily driver.
Before v5.0 update, Microsoft Launcher offered an average functioning Glance feed with profile information, Outlook calendar, Documents tab, News tab, and my people add-ons. Practically, it offered negligible advantage over the implementation done by other OEMs. With the newer update, things got changed with the introduction of Windows Timeline (more on that later), Newsfeed, and a revamped Glance UI.
When you swipe left, the launcher treats you with a three-tabbed UI separated in Windows Timeline, News, and Glance. One of the biggest hurdles with Glance UI was the News integration in it and the News tab kept getting refreshed frequently. As a result, the scrolling felt sluggish. With the v5.0 update, the News got a dedicated section as shown in the image below and one can customize the news interests from the upper right corner menu.
The Glance feed also got UI improvements like a cleaner profile area with unread calendar appointments, weather, a rounded search bar with a camera and Cortana integration. The bottom panel remains the same with recent activity, Outlook Tab, People section, and widgets from installed apps. The customization stands unchanged with rearranging tabs and turning off unwanted sections.
Another addition is Continue on PC for photos. It’s a convenient way to quickly send a picture from Glance UI to the PC. Tap on the recent photos from the recent activity tab, hit continue on PC, and the launcher will upload the photo to OneDrive and send it to the PC as a notification.
In future updates, we would like to see rounded corners around the tabs and News headlines as it would rhyme better with the rest of the UI. Also, deep integration with some of the elements of social media apps like Twitter for Trends tab in the Glance UI would be a welcome change.
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Microsoft introduced Timeline support with the Windows 10 April 2018 update. The idea is to keep a history of browsing sessions and the activities of the Office apps stored in the Timeline tab. One can the past dates and jump to an activity directly from the Timeline section. So far, the functionality was limited to Windows 10. With the Microsoft Launcher v5.0, the company is bringing it over to the mobile platform as well.
The Windows Timeline combines browsing history from both Android and PC’s Edge browser. You can keep reading an article or start working on a document on the phone and directly open it from the Timeline on the PC. In a way, the Timeline acts as a bridge between two platforms. Press the See all icon on mobile or hit the Timeline button on PC and you can go back in time to see all the browsing history of the day.
As of now, it only works with Edge browser and Office apps. But Microsoft has confirmed to open it up for other apps in the future. It will be interesting to see how far it goes regarding functionalities and third-party support.
Sticky Notes and Microsoft To-Do add-ons
For over a year, Microsoft kept using random notes and task management services in the Glance UI of the launcher. With the launcher v5.1(currently in beta), both got reformed with Microsofts apps. The Sticky Notes 3.0 introduced a dark theme, formatting option, new UI, and cloud sync capabilities. First, Microsoft integrated it into the OneNote mobile app, and now it’s sitting right in the Glance UI of the launcher.
Hit the ‘+’ icon, add a note, let it sync, and access it on the PC. Remember, you need to update the Windows app to v3.0 for cloud sync capability.
Microsoft To-Do (a Wunderlist successor) app finally got some love from the company. The Tasks tab now shows remaining to-dos from the Outlook calendar, Skype and the Microsoft To-Do app. By default, it integrates the added tasks in the To-Do app. It also lets you customize the tasks by time, date, and recurring events. Now, one can access the data or add new tasks from the Windows 10 Store app and keep the data in sync between the two platforms.
Sticky Notes and Microsoft To-Do are already available as separate apps on Android, but now they are only a swipe away in the Microsoft Launcher.
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With Android 9.0 Pie, Google added a Digital Wellbeing feature which shows usage time of every app, similar to the Screen Time in iOS. It gives a brief look on device usage patterns like the number of notifications received, the number of unlocks in a day, and the total screen usage time of the phone. So far, the functionality is limited to the Pixel phones and a handful of third-party devices. The Microsoft Launcher v5.1 brings a similar feature to devices running on Android 5.0 Lollipop and higher.
Microsoft Launcher added the Screen time tab in the Glance UI. It displays the screen on time, numbers of unlocks, and a small chart with the usage of apps. To check it all in detail, hit on the More icon to see the complete device usage with bar charts, most used apps with time data, and the longest session of an app. By default, it saves data from last 7 days and gives an average SOT (Screen on time) and phone unlock counts.
We would like to see an app-lock feature in to block out an app if the user tries to use it after the app's specified usage time is up.
Microsoft has added ‘Hey Cortana’ support for US users to provide a similar experience like the "Ok Google" hotword for Google Assistant. However, the Cortana support is region locked as of now.
The Cortana voice assistant now adds new reminders in the Microsoft To-Do app and delivers a notification with the launcher icon. Tap on the microphone icon in the search bar, add a reminder, and Cortana will save it in the tasks tab.
The whole process is seamless as a single voice reminder instantly gets saved in the Glance UI and on the Microsoft To-Do app on mobile and PC.
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A Fresh Start
For years, Microsoft has struggled to get a foothold in the mobile space. With the Microsoft Launcher, the company is trying to replicate how Google reigns Windows platform with Chrome. Microsoft wants to make an impressive piece of software that threatens to take over parts of its rival’s operating system.
With steady enhancements like these, you can only expect to see more features and improvements making their way to the Microsoft Launcher. It would be exciting to see how Microsoft plans to take on Google's launcher on Android in the coming months.