Simple questions: What is Microsoft Sway?

Microsoft Sway is an app that reflects the way we interact with information in the age of internet and mobile computing. While Microsoft Word was built focused on paper documents and PowerPoint on projector screens, Sway approaches the sharing of information similar to web pages or digital stories. Microsoft hopes that Sway can replicate in digital publishing the success Word has had in desktop publishing and PowerPoint in business presentations. Let's have a look at what Sway can do so you can decide whether it makes sense to give it a try:

What is Microsoft Sway?

Microsoft Sway was initially launched as a universal app on August 5, 2015. Today you can access the Sway app in the Microsoft Store, or online at sway.office.com. All you need to get started is a Microsoft Account. The experience of using the app or accessing the online service is almost identical.

Microsoft Sway is identical as a universal app (left) or a web app (right)

The content created in the app becomes instantly available online, and the reverse is true. In fact, without an internet connection, the Sway app does not start.

Microsoft Sway needs an internet connection to start

The documents created by Sway are called Sways. Once you have created at least one document, Sway displays an area called My Sways.

My Sways in Microsoft Sway

Sway is designed to help you create digital stories in which you share ideas, concepts, or reports.

Microsoft has made attempts in the past to provide web page editing software like FrontPage. The tools were complicated, and they reflected the laborious nature of web page editing at the time. With Sway, Microsoft wants to introduce easy and intuitive editing that can produce stunning results for every user, without requiring technical or design knowledge.

Sway example - Stephen Hawking

Like, for instance, share your summer vacation with your relatives, or make a quick presentation for your co-workers, or create a nice looking Windows tutorial for your grandmother. :)

Sway example - Climbing Mt. Rainier

Being more screen-oriented than PowerPoint, Sway can be shared easily via email, messaging apps or social media, with a link to sway.office.com. You can also export the code for the Sway document you create and embed it on a website. Sway stories are great for sharing online with other people.

The most striking feature of Sway versus Word and PowerPoint is the ability to respond to the digital screen on which it is rendered. The technical term is responsive design, and it is embedded by default in every Sway you create. It means that you can share your Sway on social media and people can display it on any device like smartphones, tablets, desktops or laptops.

Sway is an app that is easy to use. Creating your own digital story is a fast process. On the other hand, Microsoft simplified the editing process at the expense of details. The stories you create are quite beautifully rendered, but they lack granular control. Sway is limited when it comes to making fine touches to what a heading looks like, for example.

How to edit a story in Microsoft Sway

The whole editing process for creating a Sway presentation is straightforward. The app itself handles the style and the details of how your presentation looks. All you need to do is add content. When you open a Sway, you get into a Storyline editor. In this editor, any Sway you create is centered around a narrative divided into sections which, in turn, are divided into cards.

The cards can also be of different types, depending on the content they hold. For instance, you can add text cards (which hold section titles, description text or any other kind of text) and media cards (which can hold images, videos, tweets or other types of media).

Storyline editor in Microsoft Sway

Adding content to your story is simple, even if maybe it's a bit limiting. Instead of creating the content itself, Sway is focused more on embedding content. When you press the Insert button on the top-right corner, Sway displays suggestions to search for content.

Insert content in Microsoft Sway

In our example, we press the first option, "Digital literacy." Sway brings in content suggestions from the internet, in a panel on the right side, that you can drag and drop in your Sway.

Insert internet search content in Microsoft Sway

To change the looks of all the content of your digital story, you can select different themes for your Sway, depending on what pleases your eye and what meets your story's idea or concept. To do this, you press the Design option in the top-left corner. Sway opens a panel on the right that gives you options to quickly redesign your Sway.

Design editor in Microsoft Sway

How to share a Sway?

When your Sway is all done and ready to go out in the world, you can either run it locally or share it with other people online using a link to sway.office.com.

In the top-right corner, press the Share button, and a panel pops up where you can choose your sharing option.

Share a Sway

Where can I get Microsoft Sway?

Microsoft initially launched Sway as a universal app, and later it added an iOS version that worked on iPhones and iPads. The strategy now from Microsoft seems to be to push Sway towards an online experience that can be accessed as a service through any web browser. The iOS app is retired this month (December 2018), and Microsoft suggested that iOS users transition to sway.office.com. In Windows 10, you can access the same website, or you can download Sway from Microsoft Store.

Sway in Microsoft Store

Did you try Sway?

Sway is a useful app that makes it easy for anyone to create digital stories in just a few minutes. It somewhat resembles PowerPoint, but it focuses more on the narrative in your story rather than on the fine details. You could call it a web presentation tool. Did you try Sway? How do you like it? Share your feedback with us, using the comments form below.