Microsoft Word Flow Arrives on iOS

Until voice-to-text texting is perfected, Microsoft is hoping that iOS users will be content with one-handed texting. Microsoft has released a new keyboard as an iOS app that not only enables one-handed texting but also provides the ability to predict the next words users want to write.

The Word Flow app was developed by Garage, Microsoft’s in-house experimental projects division, and is now available in Apple’s App Store for users in the U.S. It was made available for beta sign-ups earlier this month.

Word Flow was originally developed for Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform and is also available for desktop users via the Windows 10 operating system. It comes on the heels of the Hub keyboard, another recent offering from the Garage division. The Hub keyboard, which is available now for iOS devices, acts as more of a multitasking and productivity tool, letting Office 365 users share and search for documents from OneDrive, SharePoint and other Microsoft services.

Game Changer?

Independent technology analyst Jeff Kagan told us that if Word Flow is successful, it could be a game changer for mobile device owners. “Users love the iPhone, but hate it being so large they now need to use two hands to do anything,” said Kagan. “Texting used to be so easy, then devices enlarged, making texting a two-hand activity.”The Word Flow app differs by promising users faster texting thanks to the ability to swipe input instead of typing it. The app’s one-handed typing mode is displayed by way of an arc-shaped keyboard, allowing users to employ only their thumbs to type as they hold their devices. Users can customize Word Flow’s background with one of the images included in the app, or use an image of their own. Microsoft plans to add more images, including arc-shaped images to fit with the keyboard’s design.

Kagan said he was surprised Apple didn’t find a way to bring its own one-handed texting app to its customers before Microsoft had the chance. Although Apple initially kept developers from offering system-wide keyboards on iOS devices, the tech giant was slow to add advanced features to the native iPhone keyboard, leaving a need for others to fill.

SwiftKey Integration

Apple opened up its mobile operating system to outside developers in 2014 with iOS 8. Around the same time, Microsoft began using app development as a way to gain traction in the mobile market. In February, Microsoft bought London-based keyboard maker SwiftKey, with plans to integrate SwiftKey’s next-word prediction technology into Word Flow.

Microsoft plans to continue offering SwiftKey’s own apps. When Microsoft bought SwiftKey, it had been installed on about 300 million devices across Android, iOS and other platforms.

If Microsoft’s Word Flow can be switched from one side to the other for right-handers or left-handers, and if it really works well with one hand, this could be…. a game changer!

Reading Aloud with Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word has a new trick up its sleeve, and it should help anyone who struggles with the written word. The new feature is called Read Aloud, and it’s a significant improvement on the previous text-to-speech offerings in Word.

Image result for microsoft word read aloud

Most of us can look at a word and immediately tell whether it’s spelt wrong. Or look at a sentence and tell whether it’s structured correctly. However, some people struggle with these things. Which is the main reason why Microsoft has upped its text-to-speech game with Read Aloud.

Microsoft Word Can Now Read Your Documents Aloud

 

Read Aloud is a new feature which has arrived as part of the latest Office 365 updates. Read Aloud does exactly what you’d expect it to do, with Word reading your document back to you. However, Word can now highlight each word as it’s read aloud right from within your workflow.

In its blog post detailing all of the new Office 365 updates Microsoft states that Read Aloud “makes it easier to recognize and correct errors as you write, improving reading and editing accuracy for everyone, especially users with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.”

Read Aloud, which is listed under the Review tab, is currently only available to Office Insiders. However, Microsoft promises it will become widely available to the general population “later this year”. Which, in Microsoft parlance, means anytime between now and December 31st.

Let’s Make Typos a Thing of the Past

Not everyone will need to make use of the new Read Aloud feature in Word. However, for those who struggle with spelling for whatever reason, this is sure to be useful. And if Read Aloud makes typos a thing of the past then people like myself will be able to sleep more soundly.

Microsoft Kill’s It’s Windows Keyboard for iOS

Microsoft is removing Word Flow from the App Store. This means that the critically acclaimed keyboard app will no longer be available to iOS users who haven’t already downloaded it. And those that have face the prospect of Word Flow never being updated again. Because that’s how Microsoft rolls.

Having failed with their “Windows Phone” Microsoft began releasing several apps including Word Flow for iOS. Word Flow being a keyboard app designed to replicate the Windows Phone typing experience on your iPhone. Microsoft released Word Flow in April 2016, and gave it a major update adding GIF search and other features in August 2016. You can check out my April 25, 2016 review of Word Flow here.

Now, Microsoft is delisting Word Flow on the App Store. This means that while existing users will be able to carry on using Word Flow (without any future updates or support) new users are being denied the opportunity to try Word Flow out for themselves.

On the Microsoft Garage website, Microsoft describes the Windows Phone keyboard app as “an iOS app with a blazing fast keyboard that comes with search (GIFs, restaurants, and more), free customization options and includes Arc mode for comfortable one-handed typing.”

That one-handed typing is what separated Word Flow from the crowd. Once you got the hang of it Word Flow could speed up your typing, and all while leaving one hand free for other things.

Microsoft is advising Word Flow users to download SwiftKey instead because the former acquired the latter in early 2016. And this acquisition is probably why Microsoft is killing Word Flow in the first place. Let’s just hope the one-handed typing feature now makes it into SwiftKey.

Snow Theme Website design with Photoshop

Get your Photoshop on and follow this step by step tutorial of building a snowboarding themed website layout. The design we’ll be creating takes inspiration from the typical style of the snowboarding culture, with grungy textures and distressed brush marks adding detail to the design. We’ll start by producing a core grid to base the design elements on, then use a mix of photography and Photoshop manipulation to create a concept web design for a fictional brand named ‘Snow Candy’.

 

Snowboard themed website design

Ideas, Research and Sketches

A good place to start any design project is in your sketchbook. Before opening up Photoshop, I took the time to jot down some keywords and create a brand persona for Snow Candy. The website would aim to present a few key elements of information such as upcoming events, latest video and focus areas that could send the user deeper into the website. I then sketched out a potential layout that balanced out the page elements, and outlined my idea of using a large header graphic to catch and draw in the viewer’s attention.

Creating an underlying grid

Using a grid to base your design on is one of the core design principles that helps bring out balance and cohesion in your designs. This particular design is based on a simple 12 column layout making up a total width of 970px, and a uses a baseline of 24px;

A useful tool for generating a grid for your design is the Grid System Generator, where you can create a template and steal the handy pink column graphic to paste it into Photoshop! To create a baseline, create a 24x24px document in Photoshop, and draw a single pixel line across the bottom. Go to Edit > Define Pattern, then in your main document fill a black layer with this pattern to give a baseline template to set your text and page items to.

Let’s shred the gnar!

With the page template ready to rock, let’s get on with some creative Photoshop work. Start by filling the background with a light blue (#b9d2f8), then add a gradient spanning from a dark blue (#02357a) at the top through to a mid blue (#295ba6) then blending out to the #b9d2f8 background colour.

Head over to Bittbox and download one of the awesome noir grunge textures. Paste the texture into the document and scale down in size. Also change the blending mode to Luminosity and drop the opacity to 25%.

Add a layer mask to the texture, then use a large soft brush to blend out the texture so that it spans from the top center of the document. Black paint renders the area invisible while white represents the visible portions of the mask.

With Snow Candy being a fictional brand, we can quickly throw together a cool logo that fits into the overall style we’re aiming for. Download the flowing Black Rose font and set out the words in lower case. Remember to make the most of your grid by scaling and positioning the logo in relation to the columns and baseline.

Rough up the logo a little by adding a layer mask and brushing over it with some grungy Photoshop brushes. I’m using my paint stroke brushes that are available for download from Blog.SpoonGraphics. Set the opacity of the brush to 10% then slowly build up the layers of distress.

To draw focus to the logo add a soft and subtle drop shadow, then draw a white radial gradient on a new layer. Set the layer style to Overlay and move into position behind the logo. Once in place tone down the effect by dropping the opacity to 50%.

Type out a simple navigation list to the right of the logo, following on the same baseline. Use a widely available font such as Helvetica or Arial to allow the text to be rendered in HTML when coded up for real.

Create a visual clue to highlight the active menu item by adding a small brush stroke in white behind the navigation text. Reduce the opacity to keep the white text legible.

Draw a large content area that spans the whole 970px width and fill with white.

Reduce the opacity of the content area to 30%, and add a very subtle drop shadow. Alter the distance and spread to 0px, while setting the size to 10px. Drop the opacity down to 25% to maintain a subtle shading effect.

One of the main features of the design is a large heading that holds a Snowboarding action shot. This area could be used as a rotating slideshow of featured content on the final website build, but for now, we’ll just mockup one of these features. Paste in, rotate and scale a photograph. This particular shot can be found on SXC.

Add some design tweaks to the shot by dabbing some vibrant spots of colour over the image. Choose a bright pink, blue and yellow and paint them onto a layer above the photograph.

Set this colour layer to Overlay and set the opacity to 35%. The result is a subtle colour shift that spices up the photograph.

Use a range of Photoshop brushes to draw a rough border around the shot. Paint the brush marks in black, then change the blending mode to Overlay to allow the colours to interact.

Painting brush strokes on a couple of layers will also allow each layer to overlap, creating more depth and interest as different levels of transparency appear.

Next, we’ll create a creative typographic layout for some event details. Here I’m manipulating the text in Illustrator for ease, but there’s no real reason to move out of Photoshop. Use guides to aid the alignment of all the words.

A few snowboading vector graphics can be sourced from FreeVectors.net that help add the finishing touches to the styling of the event information.

Paste the text into the main web design document and scale into place. Position the words between the columns and lay it perfectly on the baseline grid.

Underneath this main feauture header the secondary content can appear. Use headers to create clear visual anchors to attract the eye and give immediate regonition of the content. Manipulate the text with tight tracking and lowercase appearance, and draw some small icons with the pencil and eraser tools to back up the wording with a visual clue.

A mockup of the featured video can be created with another Snowboarding action shot. Add a grungey border using the rough Photoshop brushes.

On a new layer, draw a circular mask and fill with black. Draw a triangle using the Polygonal Lasso Tool to represent the play icon, then delete this shape out of the circle. Drop the opacity to allow the video content to show through.

To the right of the video will be a short list of upcoming events. Write out the title and back this up with an icon. Zoom right in to adjust the finest details of the icon.

Set out the event information with style. Use a range of font sizes to create a hierarchy of importance.

When laying out the content, especially the text, remember to base everything on the baseline grid. With our baseline being 24px, use a line height of 24px on all paragraphs. Finish off the content area with the desired number of elements, and end each section with an anchor that links through to deeper levels of the website.

Below this content, we’ll lay out some elements that span the width of both columns. Lay out some portrait shots to build up the Meet the Team section. Add a small white stroke and subtle drop shadow to give the appearance of a tactile photographs.

Rotate each portrait shot to give the impression of a collection of photographs that have been roughly placed on the page.

Continue the casual theme of the design by typing out the names of each team member in a hand-drawn font.

To finish off the design, copy a selection of the texture used in the header area. Move it into position behind the lower portion of the content panel.

Alter the layer style and opacity to tone down the effect and blend the colours toghether, then use a layer mask to allow the texture to peek out from the center of the panel.

Snowboard themed website design

The visual concept is complete! The blue colour scheme helps tap into the coolness of the snowboarding scene, while the mix of textures and distressed brush strokes add some gnarliness that relates well to the culture and lifestyle of extreme sports in general.

The State of Windows 10 – Post Microsoft’s Free Upgrade Offer

Yesterday the free upgrade offer for Windows 7 and 8.1 users ended. The infamous Get Windows 10 app will be removed from Windows 7 and 8.1 systems and the steady stream of reminders will fade into our collective history.

The next phase of this process will probably be the uproar from users who will state that they never heard about the free upgrade offer. They will express their dismay about missing the upgrade opportunity and share their frustration at Microsoft for ending the unprecedented offer in the first place.

There is no doubt that this will happen because that is exactly what occurred when Microsoft ended the special $15 and $40 upgrades to Windows 8 a few years ago.

If history repeats itself, those users who were flabbergasted to find out they missed out on a free upgrade will likely stay put with their current operating system and postpone the move to Windows 10 until they buy their next desktop, laptop or tablet.

A few might even choose to invest in a retail license and pay $119 for a Windows Home upgrade or $199 for an upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. However, I do wonder about those who knew about the free upgrade and did not take it. I know I recommended this countless time right here – on this fine technology blog. Who says no to free money and a modern, secure operating system at the same time?

Windows_Insider_Anniversary-Ninjacat-1366x768

Moving forward to next week, on August 2, 2016, the second major update to Windows 10 gets released – the Anniversary Update.

Let’s take a look at the future of Windows 10.

The first thing to know is that you can fully expect Windows 10 to continue to be supported by Microsoft under the Windows as a Service approach which means a regular flow of monthly updates to address security, performance and bugs in this latest version of the operating system.

In fact, based on a couple of cumulative updates that have been released for Windows 10 Build 14393, we already know there will be an update available right alongside of the Anniversary Update when it is first delivered to users on August 2nd.

Also be aware that the Windows 10 Anniversary Update will not be an instantaneous roll out. There are over 350 million devices running Windows 10 according to Microsoft, so that means the roll out will be staggered over time.

For the impatient and advanced users among you, there is an alternative to waiting. Microsoft has confirmed that the Media Creation Tool will be available on August 2, 2016, along with the Anniversary Update release build so users will be able to use that to get an ISO, perform an in-place upgrade or create installation media for a clean install for their systems. I will write more about this feature and how to accomplish it soon.

Windows Insiders – Our Mission Continues

Once everyone is settled into the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, the next step that will be on the minds of Windows Insiders is the next stage of the program. That means testing development builds for Redstone 2 – the next major update for Windows 10 which is expected sometime in the Spring of 2017.

So when will that first Fast Ring build for Redstone 2 arrive?

After the initial release of Windows 10 and its first major update last November, it took three and four weeks for Microsoft to prepare and issue the first testing build of the next update. I believe that we will see that first Redstone 2 build in the month of August.

Windows 10 is the last version of Microsoft’s operating system and that means that Windows will be continually developed and built. Think of it as a upgrade constantly in motion. Very exciting.