A recent leak has revealed information about a new app called Flow which is currently in development by Microsoft.
The app is based around chat as an addition to Microsoft’s Outlook brand. It hopes to create an interface that looks like a mobile messaging app but will focus on short emails instead. This type of interface is great for giving short and punchy replies to emails that need immediate attention, but these replies may seem a little anti-social if the recipients aren’t aware of the new wave of apps that do a similar job.
Flow has been created to allow users to create ‘fast, lightweight conversations in real-time’ and supports group chats as well as photo messages. Many individuals and businesses use Outlook so it may be the first time an app of its kind will be used on a large scale in a business setting, but that remains to be seen.
The screenshots of the Flow app were first published by Neowin. These show the interface as bright, sleek and lightweight which makes it easy to use. The specific details of the app aren’t yet available but it seems to be a cross between email and a chat app like Whatsapp where you can reply easily to messages, see when they’ve been read and also see when someone in the conversation is typing.
This app isn’t really designed to be a complete replacement for traditional emails as there are no subject lines, signatures or even greetings, but it may replace them for certain conversations and communications. Sometimes emails can seem a bit too stuffy for quick one sentence notes or questions, so Flow would allow a user to communicate with their email contacts outside of the lengthy signatures and templates of normal email.
The first word about the app came from a Twitter user and known leaker of Microsoft products who found information about the app on a page marked ‘Microsoft Confidential’ but which was easily found on the open internet. Microsoft have not yet confirmed details of the Flow app so the date for general release isn’t yet known, but if the project does come to the general market then it would give Microsoft a foot in the door of the chat app market.
In 2014, Microsoft launched Skype Qik which acts as a fast video messaging service that is easier to use than the regular Skype interface. It seems that Flow may be an accompaniment to Outlook in a similar way. Being part of the Outlook brand will probably create more ‘serious’ and business users for Microsoft, rather than the users who make use of apps like Whatsapp to chat to their friends. In a similar way to how Whatsapp connects to your phone contacts list, Flow may connect to your Outlook address book allowing you to instant message through the app with all of your usual contacts. It seems that you’ll be able to log in to flow using your usual Outlook email address or a Gmail email address as chats from the Flow app are sent to email clients such as Outlook which enables them to be searchable. In addition, Flow is run by Microsoft Exchange.
On the leaked web page, Microsoft suggests that Flow and Outlook can be used interchangeably to participate in the same conversations. But there is some confusion here as only conversations started in Flow show in the Flow inbox, whereas conversations from Flow also show in the Outlook email inbox. It may be that this means people using the normal Outlook email client will know when a conversation has been started in Flow and can reply to it, but won’t be able to send messages straight to Flow users.
The screenshots of the app were taken on an iPhone and it isn’t clear whether Flow will be available for iPhone only or if the iPhone version is the only one currently completed. Outlook launched onto iPhones at the beginning of 2015 and has had a good response from iPhone users so it seems that bringing Flow to Apple devices first may be a good move for the company. More details about the app will likely come to light closer to the app’s launch and it may begin testing the app with individuals or business before a general release.