Anyone who has ever tried to schedule a meeting with a group of people knows how much of a hassle it can be. People have their own schedules with different idiosyncrasies, so setting up a time that's convenient usually involves a lengthy email or chat chain just to figure out when the meeting can happen.
Calendar invites through apps like Outlook are supposed to make that process easier, but sending an invite without knowing when recipients are available often just leads to more frustrating back-and-forth for everyone.
Microsoft is trying to solve that with a new iPhone app called Invite. It's a product of the company's Garage idea incubator, and focused on helping people coordinate meetings on the go. Users sign up with their Office 365 or other email account, and can then set up an event invitation with a few taps that includes information about the meeting along with some suggested times that invitees can get together. Invite can then reserve all of the possible event times on an organizer's schedule, to help prevent double booking.
Recipients are able to mark which times work for them through a Web-based interface, and see what times work well for other attendees. The organizer then gets a notification that their invitees have responded, and can pick a final time for the event based on when people are available before sending out a calendar invite that blocks the time out on everyone's schedule.
Those users who are able to sign in with an Office 365 account from their business or school will get access to certain special features like a list of their frequent contacts, and give attendees the ability to directly accept or decline invitations like they would an Outlook meeting request. Those users who sign up with another email address will send out a .ICS formatted invitation, which can be opened in Outlook and other popular calendar programs.
Microsoft isn't the only company playing in this market. Its clearest competition is Doodle, which offers a similar scheduling capability as its core service.
Right now the app is only available for iPhone users in the U.S. and Canada, but Microsoft plans to bring it to Android and Windows Phone soon. The app is emblematic of the Garage's tactics when it comes to creating and rolling out new products. A team working on a project inside the Garage starts with a hypothesis they want to test, like wanting to see if it's possible to ease the pain of scheduling meetings.
If a project is successful, it could get rolled into one of Microsoft's larger products, so it's possible that we could see this capability added into Outlook or another app at some point in the future.