For The TechBlock, Abdel Ibrahim and Jon Dick write Microsoft poised for tablet resurgence, attempting to compare experiences offered by Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 and Apple’s OS X and iOS:
Windows 8 […] will roll out across desktops and tablets [and] although Apple’s forthcoming Mountain Lion, due out in late June, will look to blur the line that’s so far separated desktops from mobile devices, it won’t do it to the degree that Microsoft intends. That’s because the software company isn’t planning to simply share features between distinct operating systems, as will Apple. Rather, Microsoft hopes to introduce nearly identical experiences (or as close as the hardware will allow) to each.
If Microsoft pulls that off, and we have no reason to suspect it won’t, it’ll make a very powerful argument to embrace whatever tablets it simultaneously debuts. And it’ll do that for the same reason consumers have gone gaga for all things iOS: people like intuitiveness and familiarity; they like unwrapping a new product and not having to learn the ropes. And that’s precisely the sort of seamlessness Microsoft’s next tablets have in store for the hundreds of millions of consumers who are bound to line up for Windows 8 for desktop (if Windows 7’s reception is any indication).
This opinion is one I’m increasingly hearing, but there are two problems, which are intertwined. First, as Andy Ihnatko and Christian Cantrell (among others) have pointed out, Windows 8 effectively has split-personality disorder. Everyone seems to like Metro, but hates the jolt as you switch to the more typical Windows Desktop. And the gist is that Metro’s great for mobile but not suitable for desktops, while Desktop mode is, naturally, still a good fit for desktops but not so much for mobile devices.
Secondly, people misunderstand what Apple’s doing with its operating systems. They either think Apple’s turning OS X into iOS, or that not enough of OS X has been sent in the other direction. (Never mind that iOS includes apps for email, music playback, dealing with calendars, and so on, all taken from the desktop…). But what Apple’s really doing is creating a consistency of experience in terms of concepts; conversely, Microsoft’s attempting to provide literally the same experience on the desktop and mobile, regardless of suitability.
Apple’s stance is most obvious in Mountain Lion, which freaks out long-time Mac users with its ‘inspired by iPad’ headline. But what’s really happening here is unbundling workflows and making each app focussed. Instead of going to iCal for to-dos and your calendar, you’ll instead go to Calendar for your events and appointments, but use Reminders for your to-dos. And you do the same on iOS. The methods of interaction will not be identical, because touchscreens and desktop machines/laptops do not provide identical interaction experiences. But enough aspects of the operating systems will be similar that someone should be able to switch with reasonable ease between iOS and OS X because the fundamental concepts will be familiar in both.
Microsoft’s gamble is that Apple hasn’t gone far enough, and that the user should instead have the exact same interaction and conceptual model across all devices. But, as noted in the aforelinked articles, this is coming at the expense of a strong user experience, which is heavily compromised on every device the user interacts with. Years back, Microsoft might have gotten away with this, but the reason people have flocked towards iOS and are increasingly buying Macs is because they offer strong user experiences and seek to make things less complex. In seeking to solve one problem for the user—relearning interaction with an OS—Microsoft’s merely placed massive barriers throughout the entire experience, ending up with something that could be fantastic if logically separated into two operating systems, but that appears fundamentally flawed as one.