Microsoft Launches Preview of 'Sway' App for Office

Microsoft on Wednesday announced the preview version of "Sway," a new content aggregation app for Office.

The app is designed to automatically organize text and graphics into a presentation that Microsoft calls "a Sway." It uses algorithms based on designer expertise to create layouts on the fly, according to Chris Pratley, a Microsoft lead engineer on the Sway project, in a Microsoft-produced Garage series video.

Although it's a new app, Sway seems like blend of various Microsoft applications. Like OneNote, it lets users paste together content. It provides prebuilt layouts, much like Microsoft Publisher. It's also "interactive," which is the idea behind Office Mix, Microsoft's solution for making PowerPoint presentations work like tutorials.

Microsoft conceives of Sway as a quick way to format information, supplementing other Office apps.

"Word and PowerPoint will continue to be fantastic solutions for those with more specific design and formatting requirements, as well as the desire to have complete control over every aspect of their content," a Microsoft spokesperson explained.

A Sway is described by Microsoft as a "dynamic interactive Web canvas" that can be saved as "documents" and shared as links via social media or e-mail using a Share button in the application. The default presentation of a Sway is vertical, allowing users to scroll downward through text and graphics. However, users can change the layout to a horizontal one by clicking a button. A Sway can be viewed across various device sizes. The presentation will reflow to provide the best view appropriate to a particular device, be it a smartphone, tablet or laptop, according to Pratley.

Browser or iOS App
At present, Sways can be created or viewed using either a Web browser or an iOS app. Microsoft claims it's possible to create and edit Sways from devices with small screen sizes, such as smartphones, although the screen needs to have a width of "600 pixels or higher" to create or edit content, according to the spokesperson. The Sway app for iOS requires using iOS 8 or higher operating system versions, as well as the iPhone 4s device or newer Apple smartphones.

[Click on image for larger view.] Using Sway on the iPhone. (Source: Microsoft)

Sways are viewable through any Web browser on any screen size. Users just need a Microsoft account to see them. They currently work best in "Internet Explorer 10+, Firefox 17+, Chrome 23+, and Safari 6+ (Webkit 537+)," according to the spokesperson.

The Sway app will come with prebuilt layouts for grouping text and graphics, which Microsoft illustrates in its Sway announcement. Users can grab content via OneDrive, Microsoft's cloud-based storage service. In addition, content can be grabbed through various social media links that Microsoft is building into the product. The current social media links in the Sway app include Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but Microsoft plans to expand on that list.

Sway for Business
Business use is part of Microsoft's conception for Sway. Microsoft's announcement shows Sway being used for classroom and consumer purposes, as well as product design. Sway will be integrated with Office Graph technology, which is a new information fabric (based on Microsoft's FAST enterprise search technology) that pulls information together across various Office 365 apps. In addition, Microsoft plans to integrate Sway with OneDrive for Business, which is Microsoft's cloud storage service for organizations, as well as SharePoint, according to the company's announcement.

Prior to this Sway announcement, Microsoft had touted Delve, its new social networking app based on Office Graph technology, as the latest addition to the Office 365 suite of apps. Delve is also currently available at the preview stage. Microsoft is also working on delivering a new video portal capability to Office 365 that will facilitate publishing video content by organizations.

Anyone can test the Sway preview, but they have to request an invitation first. That's done through the Web site. Apparently, there's a waitlist, though, according to the spokesperson.

"We will be slowly issuing invites to Preview for people on the waitlist over the coming weeks/months as the Preview scales to accommodate more users."

Microsoft doesn't appear to have plans to charge for Sway, at least not yet.

"There is no subscription requirement to use Sway or view a Sway that has been shared with you," the spokesperson explained. "In the future, we anticipate adding additional features and value for Office 365 subscription customers."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.