Microsoft's Garage is now an incubator launching cross-platform consumer apps

Microsoft's Garage is morphing from an internal hacking lab to an incubator for lightweight consumer-focused apps for Android, iOS and Windows.

Microsoft's internal employee-hacking community known as The Garage is morphing into an incubator that will be focused on getting apps into the hands of consumers.

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On October 22, Microsoft made several of the apps developed by its employees involved in The Garage and Microsoft Research available to those outside the company. A number of those apps were built specifically to work on Android (and not Windows or Windows Phone), including a new lock-screen app known as Next Lock Screen; a Bing search app for Android Wear called Torque; and a public-transit app (from MSR's FUSE Labs) called Journeys & Notes.

The 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 consumer-focused apps from other parts of the company, available externally through the revamped Garage portal. These apps will also be cross-platform, available in the Apple App Store, Google Play and/or Windows Store, where applicable.

Fifteen new incubation apps are now available on the www.microsoft.com/garage site. (All are visible by clicking the Workbench tab at the top right.) These apps are all "lightweight, single-scenario applications that have been conceived of and brought to market quickly."

The apps are all consumer-focused, with some falling into the productivity category, and others more in the "leisure" one. "Customer feedback" is what will determine whether each app has a future, officials said.

The Garage apps are available in various languages and in various markets depending on the audience and platform of the individual app, officials said. Some are U.S.-only at this time, but others are in other markets, such as the CityZen app, which is targeted toward citizens of Hyderabad, India, but which has plans to expand to other locations over time.

"These incubation apps are all in the 'experimental' phase, so will be getting updated and improved based on user experience and feedback, which could include expanding to other markets pending interest," a Microsoft spokesperson said.

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