Surface by Microsoft. It seems fresh and exciting, heralding a new way forward for Microsoft. Yet it seems entirely possible that Microsoft’s self-imposed shackles will prevent Surface from achieving what it needs to achieve.
Let’s put aside the fact that the hands-off “demonstrations” mean the Surface probably doesn’t work remotely well at this point. Microsoft had to rush out an announcement after Apple’s WWDC (to not get lost in the press wave) but before Google I/O (to pre-empt Google’s own tablet reveal). Let’s assume at the unspecified point in the future at which Surface actually ships, it will work as suggested by Microsoft. This is not the problem I have.
The problem I have is the way Microsoft is telling you to use it. They’re making their “tablet” as much like a laptop as possible so they can stay in their comfort zone. Microsoft’s talk of PC-plus instead of Post-PC reveals it all: they can’t let go of the PC. And make no mistake, Surface is definitely a PC.
As far as I can tell — and still a month after the announcement, there’s not much more information available — Surface comes with a keyboard, a stylus, and a kickstand. All of these accessories are available from third-party vendors for the iPad; it’s not the existence of them that is the real problem. The problem is that Microsoft is including them with Surface, and as such is dictating ways to use Surface. Sure, you can take it and carry it around, touching the screen like an iPad. But the inclusion of these specific accessories says that Microsoft really thinks you should be sitting at a desk with the kickstand out and the keyboard attached. Just like you’ve been using their product for years.
Microsoft has taken what could be a worthy iPad-competitor and shackled it with the existing laptop form factor.
Maybe that’s fine; a lot of people don’t care about Post-PC and just want a touchscreen laptop. But catering to these customers is not realising the potential of what should be a Post-PC device. Blurring the lines between a laptop and a tablet certainly serves Microsoft well when it comes to comparing with Apple’s marketshare, but I believe Microsoft’s decisions about the hardware will cause the software platform to further stagnate.
Looking at the front of the iPad, there is no correct way to hold it. This approach seems to be unique amongst tablet makers: Apple’s competitors all have a logo or some text on the face that reveals a “correct” orientation. Sure, the Apple logo on the back of the iPad suggests a portrait orientation, but this doesn’t dictate the screen’s orientation to the user. Even once it is turned on, the image rotates to whatever orientation you are holding it at. The device itself doesn’t demand an orientation: the current app does. And that’s what gives developers a great deal of freedom in exploring ways to use the iPad: the device melts away and just becomes whatever the app requires.
It’s true that certain apps (mostly games) demand either a portrait or landscape orientation. But this is exactly what I’m driving at: if Apple suggested the correct way to view an iPad was in landscape mode, would games like Where’s My Water and Cut the Rope have adopted portrait as their preferred orientation?
With the iPad, Apple gave us a blank slate (if you’ll pardon the expression). It was unencumbered with any pre-conceived notions about how apps on it should work. As a result, we have a golden age of application development, with developers pioneering new and exciting ways to use these pieces of hardware.
What I don’t like about Surface is that Microsoft’s suggested way of using the hardware doesn’t lend itself to any of the creative ingenuity we see with iOS and Android apps. Microsoft is, in a way, asking for more of the same sorts of software we’ve been seeing for the past few decades. With access to the old-fashioned Windows shell underneath the Metro coating, Microsoft is saying it’s also fine if you don’t want to think about a new UI philosophy, let alone a new orientation. With Microsoft already at a disadvantage when it comes to exciting apps, this doesn’t help.
At first glance, it looks like Microsoft is interested in moving into the Post-PC world. But their design choices reveal they’d much rather pull us back into the PC world. Some find it comfortable and familiar in that world, but I find it stifling and old-fashioned.
I think if Microsoft were to launch Office for iPad, the iPad 3 launch would give them the best possible publicity they could get. I think this theory is quite feasible.
But is it too late for Microsoft? I tend to agree with Patrick Rhone’s post: Microsoft’s biggest mistake was allowing the world to realise they didn’t need Office at all. While bringing Office to iPad will certainly legitimise the iPad as a work device, there are also a lot of people who bought an iPad and discovered that it was possible to do everything they wanted to do without Microsoft’s software. It seems silly, but this is a massive revelation to some people.
So while I tend to believe we will see an Office for iPad launch along with iPad 3, I don’t believe Microsoft will ever regain their dominance. It seems unlikely they would sell Office as cheaply as the iWork suite, and as more and more people move away from Windows their lock-in is far from guaranteed.
Over the past 24hours there have been a lot of posts about Microsoft’s Chief Research and Strategy Officer, Craig Mundie, claiming that “Microsoft has had a similar capability in Windows Phone for more than a year… All that is already there, fully functionality for years.”
I suppose the point of this video is to convince us to stick with their current mediocre products with the hope that they will some day be enjoyable to use. If we don’t, we’ll regret Microsoft’s incompatibility with competing standards when we want to switch!
Considering how little progress Microsoft have made in the last ten years, it seems a bit rich to think this stuff is possible in the next ten.
http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2011/jun11/06-01corporatenews.aspx Looks very interesting. I really think the Windows Phone 7 interface, and this new Windows 8 interface that clearly takes inspiration from Phone, is some of Microsoft’s best work in the last decade. It’s really refreshing to see them not just copying Apple like they’ve previously done, but actually coming up with their own concepts and different approaches that actually seem really workable and nice to use. This is what Tablet PCs could have been if not for Microsoft’s ineptitude earlier in the decade. Then it would have been Microsoft, not Apple, that was responsible for the tablet era.
A comparison between the ideals of an Apple fanatic and a Windows defender. It illustrates the difference between the typical user of each platform, and why those in one camp will never be happy in the other… and why there will always be both camps.
How can you explain that stuff to a person who doesn’t even see design? To them, Apple products must just look expensive.
When Bing launched in 2009, the joke was that Bing stood for either “Because It’s Not Google” or “But It’s Not Google.” Mining Google’s searches makes me wonder if the joke should change to “Bing Is Now Google.”
Games for Windows Live is one of the main reasons I no longer play games on Windows. While I never went through the experience Shamus Young goes through in this article, it seems clear that any games publisher who uses Games for Windows Live with their games doesn’t care at all about their customers.
My limited exposure to Games for Windows Live came with the game Dawn of War II. I purchased the game through Steam. As such, the decision to include Games for Windows Live as part of the game was extremely baffling, since the functionality it offered was duplicated through Steam. Here was a publisher who certainly didn’t care how poor a user experience their game offered. Tying the playing of the game to Games for Windows Live was a massive mistake: I can’t play even a single player game without having to update to the latest version of Games for Windows Live and logging in to verify I’m still not a pirate.
I had my share of crashes and flakiness with Games for Windows Live, but that’s to be expected with a Microsoft Product. But it was clear to me with Games for Windows Live that the development team thought a shiny interface was all the good usability they needed. It is so painful to use. When a friend invites you to a game, it requires multiple clicks to get into the message service, see the invitation, and accept it. How about a single click to accept as soon as you get the invitation? It also runs painfully slow unless you have the finest gaming rig available to Man, so those multiple clicks take longer than anyone would want.
Yes, I had some fun playing Dawn of War II. But the crappiness of Games for Windows Live highlighted to me how Windows games developers only care about taking your money, and I haven’t bought a Windows games since.