News sites are frothing with speculation about Windows 8.1 design changes reflecting a U-turn from the striking design direction Microsoft launched with Metro.
I’ve used Windows 8 on a few devices. On the Surface, it’s a lush and natural experience that made me feel a little regret for buying a MacBook Air. On my non-touch desktop PC, it felt stilted and artificial. But regardless Microsoft made a big bet with bringing Metro to its desktop OS and they made a very fine product. To go a bit further – Microsoft made history with the Surface. They made the first credible touch-screen laptops. Apple are taking incremental steps towards making MacOS touch-compatible, including aligning touch gestures for scrolling and the new applications list hiding under F4. But Microsoft got there first, and they got there with a great product.
So this idea that the FT is peddling that reinstating the Start button is comparable to New Coke is ridiculous. If Microsoft remove the new Start screen altogether and retreated from supporting touch screens, then we’d be seeing a corporate back-track of a similar scale. Yes, the Start button is sorely missed on a mouse-led interface, but this is merely a simplification too far not something that strikes at the heart of the Metro design intent. Ridiculous comparisons like this show how many journalists don’t really understand technology. The same can be said for many innovation commentators, but anyways.
Hiding away at the end of an article by The Register is a far more succinct summary of the challenges facing Windows. From the consumer point of view the Windows Phone app ecosystem is still anaemic, and from the developer point of view there aren’t enough users of Windows Phone to justify development. The core promise of unifying Microsoft platforms around the Metro interface is that programs could be coded for the new Windows Start screen and also run on Windows Phone. Microsoft haven’t delivered this yet in Windows 8 / Windows Phone 8.
If Microsoft can unify the desktop and phone ecosystems, then overnight Windows Phone would have 100million users. It would quickly become the biggest market for software applications. It could make a lot of developers a lot of money, and drive a lot of sales of handsets.