Continuing my pre-postmortem of why Windows 8 is dead before arrival, Windows 8 will share many common issues with its kissing cousin Windows Phone, including one that is painfully obvious by now:
4) Differentiation of different devices.
While Microsoft does allow third-parties to install their own apps for its mobile devices, they sorely limit the ways for each product to be distinguished from each other product, which has made it hard to establish halo devices with consumers or even to get carriers to push their devices. Each Windows Phone looks basically the same at first glance, and unfortunately that first glance isn’t very flattering: bland.
Ribbons of colorful squares and rectangles ceaselessly blaring their content at the user replace icons, home screens, and wallpapers, which add soul, as I said in my analysis of the problem with the Windows Phone interface, More on the Windows Phone Postmortem: Metro is Lame.
Microsoft seems to hate icons and has long been determined to destroy them for some reason, and to destroy the whole idea of a home screen as we know it, covered with icons, and backed by wallpapers. Gone is the wallpaper from the homescreen (and gone is the homescreen as we know it), banished to the lock screen instead, where it will only be seen right before you unlock the operating system.
iOS, Android, and basically every other brand on the market uses icons, wallpapers, and traditional home screens, like we’ve been used to on PC’s. Android adds widgets, which serve the same purpose as Windows Phone “Tiles” but aren’t mandatory, and are more customizable, less uniform in appearance. These things are the soul of the device, the thing that catches the glance and adds value. Every iPhone 4S looks basically the same, but mass-produced artistry is artistry nonetheless.
Android goes farther, letting third-parties do just about anything and everything imaginable to try to add value to the product, whether it’s apps, wallpapers, a new skin or user interface or extension to the stock user interface, or branding it like the LG Prada smartphone or the Sony gaming tablets.
Nerds and technology purists may complain about these things, bemoaning fragmentation and the like, but for the consumer these are often value adds, and if nerds are concerned, there’s a vital hacker community and plenty of guidance including which devices, brands, and vendors to avoid or which can be hacked to get the latest support, or you can buy a Google Experience device like the Nexus series, but then, like with Apple, you’re going to pay a bit more.
Either way, and I have to stress this because some people just don’t get it… this doesn’t matter to most consumers! And if it matters to you, it’s probably not because you can’t, realistically, do 98% of what you want to do with your device, it’s because you want that extra value add, especially if it was promised. I get it, it’s frustrating, but even Apple probably wouldn’t update consistently enough to satisfy some of you. You’ve got remedies, like buying Google Experience or hacking.
What matters to consumers are those value adds that come from having something unique, something that doesn’t look and work just like everything else on the market. Apple has the market locked on customers who want their software company to dictate the conformity of its devices, and even they have a thriving community of jail breakers and the like looking for that extra value add Apple will never give them.
Windows 8 shares the Metro interface with Windows Phone, despite not sharing an app market: a scrolling ribbon of tiles which, while not always inelegant, aren’t exactly knock-your-socks off incredible. They took icons and reduced them to uniform squares and rectangles, and basically eliminated or at least de-emphasized wallpapers and homescreens… and they say this is their groundbreaking innovation!
They say it sets them apart, and I agree, but unfortunately, with Windows Phone this amounted to the extremely bizarre tactic of running around shouting, “Windows Phone is nothing like the iPhone! Windows Phone is nothing like the iPhone! Windows Phone is nothing like the iPhone!“
With Windows 8 they’ll be doing the same thing but saying they’re not a thing in the world like an iPad. If you can’t see how that’s a losing strategy, I’m not sure how to explain it to you without getting a small child to translate for me. Perhaps if I role play:
Me: Little boy… hey, little boy, can I ask you something? Do you want this? It’s called a Windows 8 tablet, and it’s nothing at all like that iPad you asked your parents for at Christmas.
Small Child: Nu-uh.
Me: Why not?
Small Child: I wanna iPad! I wanna iPad! My parents didn’t get me one! I hate them!
Me: What if I offered you a Kindle Fire? Would you like a Kindle Fire?
Small Child: Gimme gimme gimme! I wanna Fire! I wanna Fire!
To be fair, the Fire is nothing at all like an iPad, either, but Amazon did a good job of not letting on to that fact, pitching themselves as a cheap viable alternative, not an iPad but good enough for government work. That’s very different from pitching yourself as the “Not an iPad”.
Android probably benefits from being perceived as being close enough to an Apple device by many consumers, while offering a wider variety of value adding products, at a range of prices, and targeting a range of niches. Looking at it that way, and at the way that Windows won the same way against Mac, it’s understandable that Jobs was insanely desperate beyond all rationality to patent the design.
Windows was always the niche king, but with Windows 8, like Windows Phone, uniformity rules, and unfortunately, it is uniformly un-Apple like, so its primary appeal is to anyone who utterly despises everything Apple and thinks that all of their mobile devices are garbage.
I think I might have run into that guy once as I was passing through Redmond, Washington. Maybe you know him? Nerdy guy, glasses, looked like he had pit stains under his arms, but a huge wallet full of cash? I think he might have also been the last guy I saw sporting a Windows Phone.
I love technology and how it changes our lives. There’s something almost spiritual about how new technologies connect and empower us. And it’s really cool, too.