New Microsoft Garage mobile app, Clip Layer, provides easy sharing of information across Android apps

Nov 29, 2016   |   Athima Chansanchai

Against a green background, a smartphone shows a screenshot of a highlighted text and Clip Layer name above it

Nowadays, it’s common to use your smartphone to share articles, photos, directions and much more. While some apps make it easy to do that, others don’t. But with a new app released through the Microsoft Garage called Clip Layer, you can easily snip and share almost anything that appears on an Android screen.

Clip Layer applies a universal overlay over any screen that makes it quick and easy to select a snippet of information, copy it and act on it by sharing or including it in an email.

“Like a lot of people, my phone is the center of my life,” says Steve Won, a senior designer with Microsoft’s Office team and creator of Clip Layer. “I like to share what I’ve seen and I noticed a couple of problems unique to consuming on a smartphone.”

For instance, he found it hard on some apps to select anything, and even if there was a way to do that, it was oftentimes cumbersome to press and hold on content and then to drag two grabbers, which was required in order to select. He noticed it was a common problem across apps, and it became the starting point for this project.

The Garage, which recently celebrated a major milestone, is the outlet for Microsoft teams around the world to get experimental apps and projects out to the public, such as several recently developed by interns, as well as Video BreakdownArrow LauncherTrip TrackerSprightly, News Pro 3.0 and Color Binoculars.

This is Won’s second app released through The Garage following Hub Keyboard, which uses an Android keyboard to show a clipboard, pull contact info, get document links from the cloud, translate, show web results and allow rephrasing of sentences through a thesaurus.

Three smartphones that show different stages of copying and sharing

“If I take another step back, the root of the issue is similar to Hub Keyboard,” Won says. “Apps being silo’d is a common problem for both, as there is no standard way to share or pull information across apps. There’s been a lot of growth with smartphones and ecosystems, as there are more apps that come into stores, but the same problem keeps persisting: less apps able to talk with each other, as they’re designed to work independent of each other. But while the keyboard is focused on input and only shows up when the app allows input, Clip Layer has more coverage and works on any screen. Hub Keyboard was focused composing, and this one is focused on sharing and re-using what already exists.”

After his team’s success with Hub Keyboard, which confirmed the problem of silos and validated the approach of giving users more to do with keyboards, he turned to consuming and sharing without a keyboard through Clip Layer in April.

Hub Keyboard gave him hands-on coding experience, so he decided to develop Clip Layer by himself, as a design idea, and to provide insights to other teams at Microsoft interested in on-screen captures like this.

“I feel like The Garage gives us a lighter weight process to experiment and share a lot of learnings with other teams too,” Won says. “It’s a win-win for project teams and Microsoft.”

From Clip Layer, he wants to find out if the overlay approach solves the problem of sharing when there isn’t an obvious way of doing so in an app. And, he wants to find out what people do with the information – do they email it or share it on social media? How do they make use of it?

Going through The Garage process with Hub Keyboard helped prepare him better for submitting Clip Layer.

“It’s always smoother the second time around,” Won says. “Your first startup gets you ready for the second one. The first time around, besides product development, all this stuff was new to me – like the release checklist. I was a lot more anxious. This time around, at least I had a better idea of the entire picture. I had peace of mind, knowing what to expect and how to plan for everything.”

Download Clip Layer and find out more about it at The Garage.

Athima Chansanchai
Microsoft News Center Staff

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