Microsoft extended its reach into the Android ecosystem even further this week with the availability of Arrow, an elegant new home app. According to Microsoft, Arrow makes it easier to find the apps and people you interact with the most frequently.
With this somewhat stealthy release—Arrow is delivered through the incubator-like Microsoft Garage unit, not a major Microsoft product team—the software giant has put all the elements in place to effectively replace stock Android experiences and apps.
Consider the following.
You can now unlock your Android device with Microsoft’s Next Lock Screen or Picturesque Lock Screen. Interact with your apps, contacts, reminders, and recent items with the Arrow home app replacement. Access first-class Microsoft experiences via Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive, and Groove. Use mobile-specific solutions such as Microsoft Wi-Fi, Health, Office Lens, Office Remote, and MSN News, Sports, Money and Weather. And even test-drive Android-/mobile-only Microsoft apps like Microsoft Translator, Send, Tossup, and Xim, plus many that utilize Android Wear. You could configure a fully-functioning Android handset that used almost nothing but Microsoft apps (plus a few stragglers like the phone, messaging and camera apps, plus Google Maps).
It’s really happening. And Arrow is a big piece of the puzzle.
Compared to the stock Android home app, Arrow is cleaner and, dare I say it, a bit more iOS-like, with a less cluttered icon layout. I’m not 100 percent sold on the app arranging home screen icons based on usage—like many, I specifically arrange icons/tiles on all of my device home screens—but I will give it a shot. But I really like the way the Apps screen is really just the first of three screens, the other two being People and Recent. (You can also optionally display two other screens, Notes & Reminders, and Widgets.)
Apps, as might expect, is for app launching, and aside from the arrangement of apps in a grid, it retains the shelf at the bottom, as with the normal Android home experience (and those customizations remained, thankfully).
As with normal Android, the Apps button in the center of the shelf takes you to a view of all of the installed apps on the device. But Arrow changes this view, too, providing a segregated list of apps that sort of emulates the Windows phone All Apps list, complete with the ability to quickly jump down further in the list by pressing a letter heading (in this case on the right).
Arrow also provides a new interface when you swipe-up from right above the Apps button: Here, you get your shelf apps, your most recent apps, and handy shortcuts for Airplane mode, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Flashlight and Rotate lock (all of which you can customize), plus a volume slider.
The People screen provides a list of recent interactions with people via phone, messaging, and email. There are also shortcuts to the phone dialer and your full contacts list at the top right.
Recent works like People, except its for other things you do on your phone. Here, I see recently-accessed apps, recent screenshots (which I took for this article), and also my most recent phone call.
If you enable Notes & Reminders, this view provides an app-within-an-app, a way to take notes and set reminders right from a home screen. Interesting.
Widgets is what it sounds like, and I’d imagine that the point of this screen is that the Apps view does not let you display widgets. And I could see that being an issue for some. (If you do try to add a widget, it will be added to the Widgets screen.)
You can configure Arrow in useful ways by changing the wallpaper design. It comes with some other prettier images, but you can also have the wallpaper change each day with Bing. You can also use a custom icon pack, which I’ve not yet tested. The home screens can be rearranged if you’d like, too.
All in all, Arrow is a pretty solid entry, especially for a first try. And I’m not surprised to discover it’s made by the same folks who brought us the Next lock screen, which is also excellent.