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This Android keyboard for Excel makes me feel really good about Microsoft

This Android keyboard for Excel makes me feel really good about Microsoft


This is definitely the nerdiest thing I've said today, and I've said a lot of nerdy things today

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Here's the thing about Microsoft: it's cool again.

It's not just that in one year CEO Satya Nadella has managed to reinvigorate the company with a new sense of urgency and openness. It's not just that it had the smarts to buy the best email app and the best calendar app on iOS within a two-month span. It's not just the insane HoloLens. It's not just that it's running away from Windows 8 and developing Windows 10 out in the open. It's not even just that it's started making its apps for other platforms at a rapid clip and in a quality way.

It's also, and stay with me, that it's making neat little bespoke tools like this keyboard for Android tablets that was custom-designed to work with Excel.

Microsoft got cool while you weren't looking

The Keyboard for Excel is a simple concept; on Android tablets, most keyboards (especially the default keyboard) aren't designed well for interacting with a bunch of numbers and symbols. So the Microsoft Garage just up and fixed that problem by creating a bespoke keyboard with easy access to the buttons you need on Excel. And beyond that, the "put it on Android, and see how it does" ethos here is actually sort of inspired: this isn't a huge product release, it wears its limitations on its sleeve, and it calls itself an "experimental keyboard." Heck, it only works on tablets (and the ironic thing is that Microsoft now makes keyboards for Android Watches and Android tablets, not Android phones).

The keyboard isn't a big deal, but the ethos a company like Microsoft needs to have to quickly produce and iterate on it is very much a big deal. Take a look at all of the apps that Microsoft has on the Google Play Android app store right now. Yes, there's some big name stuff and some abandonware, but there are also some neat experiments that showcase the breadth of what Microsoft does right now. Of their 64 apps (63 of which are free), nearly every one is a small sign that Microsoft is starting to understand how to develop and release software in the mobile age. It's a similar story on iOS, by the way.

For that Android keyboard, Microsoft even links to a UserVoice page, a service designed for consumer feedback that's usually used by startups trying to engage a community. Microsoft is very far from a startup, but it's starting to act like one.