Microsoft has been in the computer business a long time; not the grandfather to all (as assumed by most consumers), but rather an offspring who took the lead in the house when dad left. And in that role, Microsoft has been a constant innovator and catalyst for change. Whoa! Let me explain first! Ok, so there were several years where it seemed that Microsoft was content with being the king, and as such didn’t seem too concerned with fixing what wasn’t broken. (IE6 [groan]). But along the way they’ve also reshaped the entire computing landscape; from pioneering personal computing with Windows to the recent explosion of functionality in the Windows Azure space. Those advances completely changed the industry and invoked inspiration, innovation, and yes, even aggravation in the market.
Changing things (while not always the best thing to do) will always happen. The evolution of technology and advancement of functionality means more features and tools to use when designing hardware and software. Sometimes a company is the leader of the change, sometimes they are a follower, leveraging other’s work and instilling their distinct mark along the way. Sure, letting Captain Giddy-Up-And-Go run off the in woods first might mean he finds the honey pot sooner. It might also mean he might find the business-end of a bear claw, too. Companies have to weigh their stance when it comes to these innovations and know when to take the lead and when to let the dust settle first.
And that brings me to Metro. In case you don’t know, Metro is Microsoft’s new interface that is swiftly taking over nearly every platform for the company. My Xbox has it. My phone has it. My new OS has it. PowerPoint templates have it. And I bet a lot more products will have it in the future. First question that comes to mind: Why is Microsoft using it so much?
Simplify the User Interface
Before weighing in on the question, let’s look at the interface. From first glance, it seems very minimal. Is this what people really want? Where are the 5,324 apps / games / programs? Wouldn’t they want to see everything? In that rhetorical question actually lies the answer. Even if someone wanted to see everything, is scrolling through thousands of apps and programs really even that effective? My answer: No. The Metro interface is simple. It delivers the information I want to know quickly and intuitively. Tiles (Metro’s foundation and basis for application presentation) are small, compact nuggets of information designed to provide users with what they want know. It’s like the whole experience has been…. simplified.
The Metro interface is targeted at specific functions the user is trying to do. What’s the weather like? The weather tile is already showing you a beaming sun and 77 degrees (living in Florida definitely doesn’t suck). On the calendar app is my next appointment (Dentist – 2:30). Elsewhere, I see I have 6 new emails. Without ever having to enter a program an app I can see the things I need to know; and knowing’s half the battle. (Go Joe!)
Another feature of Metro is collaboration. Combining functionality of several apps in one creates a fluid, seamless experience between them. When I update my status in my Windows Phone, it automatically posts to Facebook, updates my LinkedIn, and sends out a tweet (because everyone needs to know how good the Ben Folds concert I went to was). The interface did all that with 1 step. As new social networks are created every .16 seconds, people are ever increasing where they want to share information. Metro has been designed around the concept of grouping functionality together and simplifying how people publish data.
Another major benefit of Metro is how it will handle touch enabled devices like tablets. People love using their hands to do things when it comes to visual tasks like pictures, browsing, and games. Windows 8 has an entire suite of gestures built right into it to accommodate this functionality, as does Windows Phone and Kinect (yeah, it uses Metro, too). With more consumers adopting touch-enabled devices than any other hardware, a simple, easy to navigate interface will be essential. And unlike other tablets, those running Windows 8 will have the entire OS and all its capabilities behind it.
Oh, did I mention that you can control what tiles you see and don’t see, along with what information those tiles are telling you? That’s right. In Metro the user can decide what apps they want to have available, and what ones they don’t. They can group them into logical “containers” to help them find things quicker. And the tiles themselves can come “alive”. The “Camera Roll” app in Windows Phone likes to cycle through all of the pictures of my daughter’s soccer game. The "People” app in Windows 8 provides me a never-ending update feed of my friends and their FB status. The entire experience has become an interactive, customizable portal into the world you want it to be. Want to have a live tile for all 867 FB friends? Knock yourself out. Want a single place to send a text to your beer drinking buddies? The “Groups” feature in Windows Phone does just that, saving you even more time. The Metro interface has been crafted around stripping out excessive functionality and information and empowering the user to decide what’s important to them.
Back to the question: Why is Microsoft using it so much? From personal experience I can definitively say why.
Consistent Experience Across Platforms
Simplifying tasks and processes helps people be more productive and more satisfied in what they’re doing. And if any corporate welcome video has ever taught anything, it’s that a productive person is a happy person. As I move from Windows Phone to Windows 8 (and even to the Xbox), the consistent look to all of the interfaces is a familiar sight. Menus and options are intuitively located in the same areas. The gesture that allows me to zoom into a website on my phone is the same motion that allows me to zoom into a Bing map to see how my childhood home is holding up. Everything flows, from the small screen all the way up to the big screen.
I am really interested to see how the masses deal with and adopt Metro as more users get their hands on Windows 8 and other Microsoft platforms. I think there will be a fair amount of resistance to change, as there usually is with something as major as the OS that runs 90%+ percent of the world’s computers. But if they can get past the initial shock, I think they’ll really enjoy the new interface and experience. Metro will bring an industry-changing revolution to consumers. New hardware, such as tablets and slates, will give people much more functionality in the form of gestures and swipes, both of which work great within Metro.
A Big Gamble
Changing the entire user experience is a daunting and bold move by Microsoft. Windows 8 and the Metro interface will immerse the user in a completely new experience that will allow them new levels of interactivity and customization. New functionality and gestures will lead to exciting and innovative ways to work and collaborate. Simplifying the interface means more people will use the devices and OS, which will open to the door to reach brand new audiences. And for no other reason, businesses should be getting excited about that.
Here’s to seeing what comes next.