When you’re on your smartphone, you may frequently toggle between apps, especially when you’re trying to share information with someone via mail or text message. Now you can say goodbye to all that switching back and forth thanks to a new Android app released through the Microsoft Garage, Hub Keyboard, which keeps you in your conversation, bringing in relevant information to help complete common tasks.
“Personally I don’t like switching between apps to do different things on my smartphone,” says Steve Won, a senior designer on the Office team who came up with the idea for Hub Keyboard about a year ago. “But all these different apps on a smartphone, they have to conform to rules of a keyboard and that got me thinking about the project as an interesting idea I wanted to explore more. We’re giving users a wider gamut of tools.”
With Hub Keyboard, you can copy and paste recent items, easily search and share documents, share contact information, and instantly translate parts of messages.
All of these tasks are integrated into the keyboard, and you can choose which ones you want to use in any app that requires a keyboard.
“I may be in a text message conversation, then have to jump to contacts for a phone number,” Won says. “Rather than forcing users to switch between apps, we bring those apps to them.”
The project started out as personal project for Won in March 2015.
“I was thinking about how we can help users be more productive in the mobile space,” Won says. “After a couple of months hacking at it, there was an internal science fair, a showcase of independent projects, and that’s where I was able to receive a lot more feedback and attention. Things started picking up.”
After the internal science fair, he entered the project into Microsoft’s internal //oneweek Hackathon in 2015. Eventually, a team of seven emerged to work on the app that would become Hub Keyboard.
“That was really great,” Won says. “I’m a designer and I knew just enough coding to put together a prototype to convey my vision, but to make it more stable and solid, I needed more help on the engineering side. I never imagined shipping code as a designer, but being able to do that throughout the course of this project has been pretty cool.”
Won says he’s grateful to the Garage and other supporters internally for helping him get to the next step, and for making the connections that led to the project getting funded. The Garage is dedicated to developing the hacking culture across Microsoft, and is the platform for Microsoft teams and individuals around the world to get cutting-edge apps and projects out to the public.
“The Garage has been so supportive, and now I’m working with them to make sure we’re all buttoned up,” Won says. “One thing I love about the Garage is that they are an equal opportunity outlet for experimental projects. Whether the project is from an organizationally sponsored team or a side project, everyone gets excited about good ideas.”
His Office team was so supportive of him and this idea that it turned into a full-time job for him, not just a side project.
“This whole journey has been very exciting,” Won says. “It’s kind of surreal now that we’re really close to getting it out there.”
Microsoft News Center Staff