Now that Windows Phone is becoming less of a priority for Microsoft mobile development, with platforms like Android and iOS getting most of the focus for upcoming apps and services, we are seeing more and more products released by Microsoft attempting to leave their mark on the Android userbase by offering new experiences and additional value. The latest effort by Microsoft to make a dent on Android is the release of a brand new launcher, Arrow Launcher, currently in development but already showing some interesting features worth taking a look at, which is what we’ll be doing today.
Arrow Launcher is currently in private beta, although you can easily download the apk file yourself and install it on your device by using this link. You don’t see a lot of big companies betting on custom launchers these days, with the notable exception of Yahoo with their Aviate Launcher, but for some reason Microsoft seems to think that it’s a venture worth pursuing. It’s not your traditional launcher experience – and because of that it’s not ideal for everyone – but I think that maybe this launcher can find a niche audience to enjoy it.
When you first install it, the launcher will welcome you and then introduce you to the basic interface:
The focus of Arrow Launcher seems to be on simplicity and less customization in exchange for an always familiar experience. It relies on three screens that you can scroll through, each with a particular focus. For instance, the first screen is all about your contacts and calls:
The second screen is all about your apps and folders, which you can use as a standard homescreen:
And the third screen is for your notes and reminders:
There is also a standard app drawer for you to navigate through your apps alphabetically and explore further:
You can also swipe from the bottom bar to the top to reveal a hidden pane that contains your most recent calls and a customizable app list that you can invoke at any time:
From there, it also allows you to go into the settings of the launcher, although things are understandably still a little bare at this point in the beta:
There is also a built-in wallpaper tool that lets you set a custom wallpaper, pick from a list of defaults, or have a new one downloaded for you every day, automatically:
One of the most bizarre things about this app is the way it is designed. It doesn’t follow any of the Material Design or even older Holo guidelines and elements, and instead uses a custom interface and iconography that looks like something out of iOS, with square icons and rounded corners everywhere, and icons that look like a bad remix of the standard Apple apps. It’s very strange in that respect, and I don’t really care for it that much. If Microsoft is going forward with this sort of design, it would be disappointing, but maybe they’re trying to unify their iOS and Android experiences in a single app or something like that. Time will tell.
So, as you can see, this is one of those launchers with reduced functionality and a focused set of features. For example, there is no visible way to add custom widgets, or resize and shuffle elements around. It’s all bare-bones and meant to be used as-is. Of course, if you’re the sort of user that likes customization, this will be an immediate put-off, but think of how many people don’t care about that and would gladly exchange it for an easier interface. That’s who this launcher is trying to appeal to, and it does an okay job at that. The problem is how to market something like this, since only power users really care about changing their launcher to begin with – but maybe we’ll see this as the launcher in the rumored Nokia devices set to launch with Android in the future.