#Torque, Microsoft’s Alternative To “OK Google,” Now Works On Android Smartphones

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Microsoft this morning has released
an app for Android smartphone
users called Torque that allows you
to shake your phone in order to
perform a voice search, similar to
Google’s “OK Google.” The
difference is that instead of waking
up the app with a standard
keyword command, it’s the shaking
motion that instead does the trick.

Also like Google, Torque will
provide a number of “instant
answers,” including things like
details on local flights, stock prices,
sports scores, weather, nearby
restaurants and more.

Torque itself was actually released
back in October , but at the time
was only supported on select
Android smartwatches. The app
then was activated with a wrist
flick. However, smartwatches are
still a niche market, so it makes
sense for Microsoft to expand its
support to smartphones as well.
(The original app has been
download under 10,000 times, to
give you an idea.)
The 2.0 release, out today on
Google Play, also includes a few
more instant answers, including
flight status reports and info on
local events. These answers and
other results are powered by Bing
search.

Early testers reported some bugs
with the first version of the app
properly responding to their wrist
movements, or detecting their
voice, but overall the app has a
decent 3.9 (out of 5) star rating on
the Android app marketplace after
some 240+ reviews.
That Microsoft is actively
developing Android applications
outside of its company’s flagship
software products like Microsoft
Office, Xbox, OneDrive or Outlook,
for example, may be news to some.

But Torque is representative of
Microsoft’s newer thinking which
sees the company attempting to
engage with the broader mobile
ecosystem.
The Torque app was developed by
Microsoft Garage, a group exploring,
experimenting with and releasing
cross-platform consumer
applications. The organization,
which grew out of Office Labs in
2009, is about connecting Microsoft
engineers and its engineering
projects with customers to see how
its technologies are received.
“From a customer’s point of view,
it’s a really great way to get first
access to emerging technologies.
And from Microsoft’s point of view,
it’s really a great way to get real
feedback from real customers on
how people are using things,”
said Jeff Ramos, Manager of The
Garage in a blog post from October.

The original Torque app was built
in three months’ time as a side
project created by Xuedong
Huang, Jiaping Wang, Lingfeng Wu
and Wayne Xiong from Microsoft
Garage who worked with other
Microsoft researchers on the twist-
to-activate motion. Huang has
worked with voice technologies for
some time, having founded
Microsoft’s speech recognition
research and development efforts in
the early 1990s.

In addition to Torque, the team
has rolled out a number of other
applications, including Mouse
without Borders (lets you control 4
computers with a single mouse and
keyboard); Bus Alarm (alerts that
tell you when your bus is arriving);
Journeys & Notes (a social trip log
app for Android); Next Lock Screen
(an Android lock screen offering
quick app launches and other
notifications); Voice Commander (a
voice-controlled Xbox game), and
many, many others. If apps don’t
work out, the Garage team moves
on, building on top what they’ve
learned as they move forward.
With something as critical as
mobile/voice search, however, one
would imagine Torque is the kind
of project Microsoft wants to get
right.

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