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Feb 17, 2015

The Challenge in Being the “New Microsoft”

Microsoft Windows 10 Hololens - the mobile spoon

It is very trendy these days to talk about the “new Microsoft”. Analysts, bloggers, reporters, are mostly praising the software giant for being more open to non-Microsoft technologies and platforms than in the past. It’s also noticeable that the company is trying hard to create a buzz by announcing new software and hardware in an amazing pace.

Office for iOS, Windows 10, HoloLens, Microsoft Band, open source and cross platform .Net… wow! amazing! so many things in just few months. I love it.

However…

As much as I understand (and mostly support) what Microsoft is doing, there is also a problem with Microsoft’s recent “announcements outrage” and that’s lack of consistency.

Here are just a few examples form the top of my head:

1. Outlook for iOS

Outlook for iOS was released with a lot of buzz. everyone is excited about it, but it’s no other than the good old Acompli app we all know for a while. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it’s just that the app, as great as it is, is completely inconsistent with the rest of Microsoft’s Outlook line of products (Windows, Windows Phone, web, OWA). The design, the labels and titles, the behavior, gestures, and some missing features – make it feel like something which is definitely not “Microsoft”. I think Microsoft could have done a much better work (even if a bit superficial) to make the app feel like a true Outlook client (i.e make some UI changes, fix some issues with push notifications, etc.).

2. Microsoft Band

I’m a fan of activity trackers and the Band is the best in that category to my opinion (and needs).
But here’s the deal: I bought a kind of a prototype product 2 months ago after reading that Microsoft plans to introduce a web portal and expose some new sensors data (in the Microsoft Health app) in an ongoing manner.
Nice plan, and I am not complaining – I enjoy the Band a lot. However, during those 2 months there was only 1 update and it only included new training packs – something that doesn’t really count as a technology update.

Band on hand

I’m still optimistic about those updates, but knowing myself, I do see a scenario where around April I might switch from a Band to a Watch.

3. Windows 10 for Phones

One OS to fit them all; laptops, tablets and even phones. That’s an amazing vision and I wish it came 3 years ago, but better late than never. Still, digging into the details I am now pretty sure the vision of “Universal Apps” is not as pure & simple as Microsoft presents it.

Developers can have a shared project (or solution) – that’s right, but they will still have to sweat a lot in order to optimize their apps to each form factor by adding sub-projects per device type (Phones, Xbox, etc.).

In a way, universal apps can only be used for really simple applications or for specific layers of the app. Now, since today, the UI and UX are top priority for both developers and consumers – this means that the universal app vision only saves that amount of effort, and there will be still a lot of things to tweak and code in order to allow a Windows app to run properly on a Phone. Even if they are both called “10”.

Here, again, I think that in terms of consistency – Microsoft could, should, and probably will do more for developers. There are plenty of responsive web design patterns that can be applied for native apps. In order for Windows 10 to succeed, and in order for the vision of Universal Apps to be consistent and real – those tools should be available for developers pretty quick.

 

Summary:

I’m fascinated by the change Microsoft is going through.  I love the new Office for iOS (here’s how to get it if you do not live in the US) and the speed of new releases. I want to see more great products, but I hope that the current “announcements tsunami” will not end with a collection of beta products with no future (a-la Google Glass) and a trail of disappointed people.

Microsoft managed to create the buzz and capture our attention – that was the fun part.
The real challenge would be to deliver the promise in the long run, and that’s something the “new Microsoft” still needs to prove it can do.



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