Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Microsoft And The Next Future

Here's a picture of the Xbox Live interface you see after you boot up the 360:

Here's a picture of the Windows 8 desktop (thanks to The Inquirer):

Here's the Windows 7 smartphone home screen:

Windows tablets coming later this year? Same thing. This is the "Metro" interface--well, technically Xbox Live isn't using Metro yet, but it's "Metro-esque".

This is significant.

Unifying a user experience across phones, tablets, computers, and consoles is quite a feat. I often think that Microsoft is a company of small ideas, generally, but this is a very big idea.

It's also a big idea that Metro's driving force appears to be tablets, not the desktop. Tablets, not computers, are clearly the future for many users. Microsoft appears to be (for once) out in front of a defining moment.

Let's look at an average consumer. The idea that they can use a smartphone, a tablet, or a computer and use essentially the same interface is a powerful, powerful marketing tool.

It's not just the interface, though. Matt Solomon downloaded the Windows preview and had some very interesting thoughts:
So there’s definitely a lot to get used to here. Probably the biggest hurdle for me is that you don’t really close apps, ever, and closing them doesn’t really reset them. Works very much like a phone in that they kind of just suspend and remember their state. You can manually close them via the app sidebar, but doing so is mostly about keeping that list short enough to scroll through easily. This can lead to some problems if an app glitches out, but that’s probably something that’ll get sorted by the time release rolls around.

I’m really liking how you can dock things and quickly swap between which of the two apps you’ve got docked next to each other takes up the majority of the screen, especially because the desktop itself acts like just another app. When you turn it into a side bar, it shows all of the open applications as live preview icons, like what you get when you mouse over a taskbar icon in windows 7, in a vertical list. So I can easily keep track of if I’m receiving IMs from friends while doing something else and then swapping back to that is as simple as clicking on the instant messenger icon. The mouse/keyboard controls are very easy to get used to, but this really changes how you interact with the OS a ton. But overall it’s very clean, very sleek, and fairly easy to deal with for the sort of “average” uses that most people would have, and the desktop is always there if you need a ton of windows.

I think I rather like it so far, but it’s going to be hard to really say how well this is all going to work until there are many more solid apps to use. If we’re stuck mostly on the desktop, then I’m not sure there’s a ton of value in the UI changes, but with a lot of well developed apps, this model becomes pretty awesome.

Also, just to note, there’s an Xbox Live app in the preview that lets you buy both Windows Live and Xbox games through your desktop PC. There’s also an Xbox companion app that works like the companion app for the Windows phone.

Matt also sent this follow-up a few days later:
Also let me say that I can already see this completely blowing away the competition as a tablet UI. The small UI oddities that come from the rough stitching between the Desktop and the Start Screen/apps just completely disappears when the Desktop is restricted to Office and almost everything you do is via the Metro UI. There's no desktop browser on the tablets afaik, so that means no Flash support, but that's nothing too uncommon in a world dominated by iPads. Being able to side dock apps is really awesome, and being able to do it on a tablet with full touch is going to be pretty sweet.

With a common interface comes (potentially) portability of user experience. Buy a game for your Windows phone which you can also play on your Windows tablet for your Windows PC (or, possibly, your Xbox 720). Cloud saves transfer your work from device to device.

Television? Why not? Put the Metro interface into smart televisions as well.

Buy any of these hardware products and you will have a familiar user experience. All devices feel the same, in an operating sense.

It's the same experience in a different form factor.

This is hugely ambitious, and I don't know if Microsoft can pull it off, but I like that they're trying.

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