A closer look at Microsoft's Apple Watch apps45
Microsoft has its own Band fitness accessory, but that doesn't mean it's ignoring the competition. The software giant has been truly moving back to its software roots this year, with apps and services on iOS and Android. Microsoft's support of the Apple Watch is just the latest evidence of a company that is focused on ensuring its key apps and services are used by as many people as possible. "Excited about the Apple Watch? So are we!" Microsoft announced during its update of OneNote for the Apple Watch, before welcoming users "to the future."
While the usefulness of the Apple Watch is still debatable, that's not stopping Microsoft and many others from producing apps for the new wearable. It might seem surprising that Microsoft is quick to support the Apple Watch when Google and other equally big companies are still holding off, but it's clear the company doesn't want to miss the early interest.
Microsoft has four apps in total, including PowerPoint, OneDrive, OneNote, and Skype. They vary in quality and usefulness, so let's see what Microsoft's first foray onto the Apple Watch brings.
Microsoft's OneDrive app for iOS is exactly what you'd expect. You can manage all your content stored in the cloud, and there's even an option to automatically upload photos taken from your iPhone. It's perfect if you want to avoid iCloud, or just as another option to backup and store your photos. Microsoft has been quick to update OneDrive regularly on iOS to support the new screen size of the iPhone 6, iOS 8 features, and much more.
The Apple Watch version of OneDrive is very basic. It's one of the many Apple Watch apps I've used that feel totally pointless. I'm not sure I'll ever want to look at photos on my wrist, regardless of their source, and OneDrive doesn't offer up much to convince me otherwise. You can view various albums, recent images, or tags, but the app is very slow to pull data off the phone, and you regularly see the placeholder thumbnails.
Microsoft has also done a poor job of the actual app icon, as there are bits of random white pixels around it. It feels like a version 0, and I'd expect it will improve in time, but the only real management you can do is open a photo and then delete it. That's about it for now. It might be useful for other things in the future, but OneDrive feels like something that should stay on the phone and not extend to the wrist.
Microsoft brought its Office suite to the iPhone with basic document editing back in 2013, but it recently updated its apps with a lot more features and functionality. They're also free, and millions of people are using them to edit documents on the go. I rarely use PowerPoint on my phone, but I do find it helpful to edit some parts of Excel or Word documents while I'm on a train or just away from my PC. It's not often, but it can be a lifesaver if you desperately need to fix a figure or paragraph that might just save your career.
Microsoft's vision of PowerPoint on the Apple Watch is a good one. It's not just merely replicating slides onto your wrist, and it doesn't feel pointless. Microsoft has enabled a remote feature for PowerPoint on the Apple Watch, which allows you to control a slide deck on an iPhone. Unfortunately it's only limited to controlling the iPhone right now, and I'm not sure that many will be presenting slide decks from their phones. You don't get a view of each slide, but there are options to flick forward or backward in a deck from your wrist.
Microsoft could improve this experience by extending this remote functionality back to PC and Mac versions of Office, but it's an interesting start to Office on the Apple Watch. If Apple allows it in future, you could imagine controlling a PowerPoint by using gestures with your wrist. That might appeal to some businesses, but it's not enough on its own to justify the expense of an Apple Watch, especially as there are many wireless remotes available to control PowerPoint presentations that are a lot cheaper.
Microsoft redesigned Skype for iPhone last year to bring a simplified Windows Phone-like look and feel to its popular voice and video messaging app. It's one of Microsoft's best iPhone apps, with good performance, pretty animations, and a relatively simple user interface.
Extending Microsoft's Skype work to the wrist is a challenge. Skype has been struggling with its messaging interface and notifications, and most people I know who use the service still primarily use it for voice and video communications rather than text-based chats. While the Apple Watch doesn't have a camera, it does have a microphone. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn't really make much use of it in Skype.
Sure, you can dictate messages, but you can't send audio or chat through the Apple Watch. That's probably a restriction by Apple until native apps are available, but it does kill the point of the app somewhat. There are text replies only with a selection of pre-defined messages or your own message through dictation, and there's also a number of Skype emoji at hand.
If you have recent messages, they'll show up right on the home screen of the Skype Apple Watch app, otherwise you'll get access to favorite contacts to continue a conversation or start a new one. It's all very basic, a common theme among Apple Watch apps, and it's not an app I've been using regularly because the experience is far superior on the phone.
I use OneNote every single day to manage to-do lists, or just take notes across my various devices that run Windows, iOS, Android, or OS X. It's everywhere, and that's exactly what makes it important to my workflow. When I heard Microsoft was bringing OneNote to the Apple Watch, I was slightly intrigued at the possibilities for taking notes on such a small screen or just reading them on the go.
Like the rest of Microsoft's Apple Watch apps, OneNote is a fairly basic affair. The app lists all of your recent notes, and you can access and read them easily. If you're looking to find archived notes or ones from other subsections you might not have touched for years, then you'll either end up scrolling for a long time or giving up. It's really designed to access your most recently used notes, and that's probably enough for me on my wrist.
Unfortunately, taking notes is too basic. There's only one option to take a note through dictation, and you have no control over where it's stored in your OneNote or the ability to customize it heavily. I was hoping I might be able to scribble notes into OneNote on my wrist, rather like the way I can send sketches to friends who also own an Apple Watch. It's just text for now, and again this feels like an Apple restriction with what you can do with these basic apps right now.
If you're looking to edit or change OneNote notes on your Apple Watch, then you're out of luck. You can only view existing notes, or create new ones through dictation. Bullet or numbered lists aren't supported, and nor are photos, so it's just basic text notes for now. It's fine for quick notes, but for anything else I've just been grabbing my phone. That's the same for most Apple Watch apps I've tried, and Microsoft's apps don't really provide any killer apps to make this wearable worthwhile.