[expand title=”Triggering Titlingle”]
Mobile devices, specifically smart devices, are here to stay; there’s no doubt about it. But nowadays, gradual changes seem to represent more of a burden that an obligation because of the immediacy of technological advances. Companies try to perform these changes faster and error-free day by day since they need to come up with something new before rival companies do, entering a vicious circle. During this process, companies are exposed to releasing unfinished or faulty products and, depending on the circumstances –and even luck– these situations may be part of history as mere anecdotes or as authentic failures that may lead a company to bankruptcy.
Microsoft, in its attempt to have a relevant presence in a changing world, has released its most recent operating system Windows 8, which is based on Microsoft’s design language Modern UI, previously called Metro. But this new generation of the emblematic OS, albeit it is an important and possibly a revolutionary advance in computer history, has generated more resentment than flattery. On one side, the regular user (and mostly, the regular tablet user), thinks this has been a marvelous invention. But on the other side, the critiques have been especially sharp coming from those (mainly PC users) who perform work-related tasks on these devices on a daily basis, users who have seen a considerable decrease in their productivity because Windows seems to have been “abandoned” them to satisfy the segment of the market that just want to listen to music, watch videos, share content through social sites and read their mail. The opinions are divided, but as long as design is concerned, which is the topic that we love, we are going to analyze the graphics part of the OS, observing its features, failures and what can be improved.[/expand]
We are all familiar with the Modern UI, right? Well, if you’re not, it is a design language that consists of a flat design, focused in typography, static and live tiles, and flat icons created and used by Microsoft. Although it acquires its actual shape with the release of Windows Phone, early versions of the Encarta Encyclopedia, the Windows Media Center and Zune used it. Today it’s present in the Xbox dashboard, Microsoft’s website, Windows Server 2012 and of course, Windows 8. Windows 8 was created to take a piece of the tablet market. The message Microsoft wanted to transmit by making it a dual OS was that it will work both in tablets and PCs. However, some flaws in its design have made it quite hard to work with. This video shows how the system performs some tasks and makes use of its features like the charms bar and system options and also describes perfectly the lack of harmony between both environments (PC and tablet).
Spotting the mistakes and how to fix them
Even though the overall design of Windows 8 is interesting, it has some features that affect usability and have caused a lot of headaches among its users. The attempt of the company by exploring both PC and Tablet capabilities in a single OS (divided into two), something that usability expert Jakob Neilsen called and “imposition” from Microsoft, it’s not that bad after all, and it’s an interesting and important step in the tech industry, having in mind that complete integration between tablet and PC technologies is plausible for practical purposes. The average user doesn’t worry that much about content creation, but we in the media industry do, and that’s why this first attempt was not accomplished correctly. Content creation is the other half of the business, and although this time it was taken for granted, this wrong step is an important part of the transition to more integral smart devices; and since it is our job to help them create a better system, here are some of the features they need to improve.
The UI restricts users to one environment at a time
On one hand, by grouping all the tiles and icons within the tablet environment, it only gives us the possibility to use the apps within that specific environment. On the other hand, if the user needs to access the PC environment, the previously opened apps won’t work in it, giving the impression that you’re using two different operating systems. For regular users with a tablet, that’s a good option (although not the best one), but for power users, those who need to check his email, work on a report and watch a video simultaneously, it could be kind of a nightmare. Also, Microsoft must be aware that even regular users want to multitask, so a great way to solve this can be done by smoothly integrating both environments, keeping the clean and nice design of the tablet side, with the power of multitasking from the PC environment. In that direction, some Android devices have a feature added not so long ago to “simulate” some sort of multitasking by letting you know which apps were running, and Microsoft did this as well, but we haven’t actually seen two apps running simultaneously on the screen, haven’t we? Is not a matter of just occupying fixed spaces of the screen or be more flexible, but being actually able to multitask. Also, Windows devices need to get rid of that crappy and useless home button to give more power to inner functions, but that’s a device related thing so for now, we’ll leave like that.
The excess of live tiles creates a disordered environment
Live tiles are those squares showing interactive content, which have the purpose of notifying the user about a changing event at a specific moment. These apps are very useful for some purposes like letting the user easily know the hour, date, local weather, incoming emails and many other things; but under these conditions, recognized app makers (mainly those in the media industry like blogs and newspapers) have decided to create their own live tiles, and many of them are not bad at first sight, but the incorporation of rotating images, mixed with text and even ads on them, makes them loose cohesion with the rest of the interface, and it looks overloaded and disordered. This could be fixed by establishing restrictive app development guidelines, so developers know beforehand what features can be added to live tiles. If these guidelines establish a clear use of images, text, links and other info to live tiles, and force them to keep a flat style, apps certainly will integrate better, and the start screen will look awesome.
The UI’s flat design fails to show what elements are clickable
This complicates the usability by disregarding visual aids like shadows for flat icons or underlines for text lines. For instance, it’s been constantly highlighted the case of the icons in the settings menu, which look a lot more like images and labels part of a background instead of something you can click on, and this is a constant issue all over the tablet environment that can be solved with the simple addition of design enhancements to make icons noticeable.
The invisibility of important features
Everyone who’s ever used Windows 8 for the first time has had a hard time trying to find some features. It’s understandable that the OS focuses on tablets, and it’s also understandable that some things have become obsolete in them, like the shutdown option and the administrative tools. But what it’s not understandable is the fact that Microsoft forgets about its customer base to please a growing tablet market. It’s important that these features have a clear space for a better usability in both tablets and PCs; fixing this requires single design elements that highlight hidden objects ready to be discovered, like those new features that one can only find by luck or chance (the charms bar); is not that difficult, right? This question in Quora has nice points of view on how users have been feeling about Windows 8 and what would they change.
There’s no graphic unity across environments
This, probably the most important of all, may have an enormous impact in tech industry if it is achieved correctly. The fact that there are two different environments working independently and even opposing each other is already bad enough, but the project Microsoft is putting a lot of work into right now, called Windows blue, could be nothing less than full integration between, not only PCs and tablets, but across all mobile devices + PCs ever created. This article shows how Microsoft is working on the junction between devices with this OS.
Concluding, many users seem to be upset, mostly because of the changing appearance than because of the system itself. Others say this usually happens when something new appears since people don’t like changes, but once they’re familiarized with it all this commotion will dissipate. However, it’s important to admit that Windows nailed it by creating a dual product. They have managed to create an OS that will change the way we perceive smart devices, and even the way we will work and create content in the near future with the help of a hybrid between a mobile device and a PC. The future of mobile communication will be incomplete if we just focus in content consuming instead of both that and content creation, and Windows 8 is in the intersection of this. By improving it, Microsoft may be walking the first steps on the road to leading a revolution; again.