Meet Arrow, a new Android launcher from Microsoft's Garage

The home screen replacement is another foray into Android from Microsoft's in-house idea foundry

Microsoft's Arrow launcher for Android

Microsoft's Arrow launcher for Android

Microsoft is quietly testing a new launcher app that replaces Android users' home screens. Called Arrow, the utility is a product of the company's Garage program that lets employees work on interesting side projects and release them to the world.

Right now, the app is in private beta, and only available to members of a private Google+ community. Microsoft isn't saying much about its existence, either. While a spokesman for the company confirmed that the app is a Microsoft Garage project, he declined to share specific details. Microsoft News, a blog unaffiliated with the company, managed to get its hands on a copy of the app and published a run-down of how it works right now.

According to the post, the Arrow launcher splits a device's home screen into three pages: a People page that includes contacts from both the user's phone and email contacts, an Apps page that shows recently installed and frequently used applications, and a Notes & Reminders section that lets users set a to-do list for themselves. Arrow also includes a dock that allows users to keep the most important apps on their phone in a location that shows up across all those screens.

By swiping up on the dock, users can get access to a tray that includes more apps along with recently used contacts. Arrow also allows users to set Bing's picture of the day as their wallpaper, for people who want to spice up their home screen with a new image.

Microsoft isn't the only tech company trying its hand at custom Android launchers in some way. Yahoo has put engineering muscle behind Aviate, an Android launcher that the company acquired last year. Interestingly, Arrow doesn't seem to integrate a Bing search bar, unlike Aviate, which features Yahoo search as a prominent feature on its home screen.

Arrow is far from the only Android system utility the Garage has produced. Microsoft has also made a pair of replacement lock screens for Android phones, a keyboard built for use with Excel and a Bing-powered voice search tool for Android Wear devices. Building apps for other mobile platforms makes sense for the company, since Windows Phone hasn't found much traction in the smartphone market. As part of the firm's new direction under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has focused on creating and acquiring productivity tools for a variety of platforms.

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Blair Hanley Frank

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