2010 will be remembered by some as the year of the Great Patent Wars. After it became clear that Android had really taken off and was making serious money for companies like Google, Motorola, Samsung, and HTC, Apple chose to fight back. Litigiously. From March 2010 to March 2011, Apple filed 37 lawsuits against Android software and hardware manufacturers. The Cupertino giant sued over everything from device size and shape to how devices accept and process touch input, even down to the very names used for new tech-jargon features like apps and stores and marketplaces. Apple wanted to make their message clear: any ideas we stole first are ours now, so you’d better try something else. Much of the legal drama has cooled off now as courts and ITCs in different regions of the globe have ruled that Samsung, Motorola, and HTC have made the necessary changes to adequately differentiate themselves from Apple, iOS, and the iPhone (though it seem Apple would be unhappy with anything short of the exclusive rights to build touchscreen-only devices and sell apps). During this time of Great Patent Wars, Microsoft was developing their latest smartphone OS: one that bears no resemblance to any UI or OS anyone has seen before on anything. When the first Windows Phone 7 handsets were made available in October of 2010, the world was introduced to Metro UI. Especially at the time, Microsoft and Window Phone were joining an already saturated market, not to mention their radically different design and theory. The phones haven’t sold super well here in the US, but they’re doing better every quarter (especially since the release of the Nokia Lumia). Coming up on its two year anniversary, Metro is still making the steady approach to its tipping point. With its soon-to-be ubiquitous presence on all of Microsoft’s latest devices (PCs, the Xbox 360, and Windows Phone), the Metro UI will be making its way into your life one way or another in 2013. This is only the beginning.
Sure a lot of people are voicing concern over the major switch to Metro UI they can expect with Windows 8, but a radical new paradigm can take a little while to take hold. (Bad example: Nobody wanted or played Nintendo’s Virtual Boy until they were discontinued.) In the beta releases and consumer previews, developers, writers, and the general public have gotten a chance to begin to familiarize themselves with navigating within Metro UI. We’ve heard them loud and clear: it’s different, too different for many. But that’s okay. It should be. It’s 2012 and our computers and technology are vastly different than even two years ago. The things we do with our devices have changed. We use the internet more and more. We store our data in the cloud. We stream media over the internet through gaming consoles, set-top boxes, and home theatre pcs. We stopped carrying iPods and mp3 players because our phones are capable of the task. Instead of gaming on computer or with the consoles that now act as Netflix and Hulu portals, we play short and simple app games. Things we once did on our laptops are now easier and more fun on tablet or phone. For all of this to happen the industry has had to focus much of its development effort into mobilizing their offerings. Microsoft has had this vision of the future and has been preparing in full force. They’ve been subliminally conditioning us all for their next generation in peripheral computing or ecosystem integration or whatever term you prefer to use to describe using one interface on many different devices. In 2009 and 2010, Microsoft wasn’t preparing their mobile platform and their next Windows iteration for 2011 and 2012. Microsoft is busy preparing their devices and software for 2013, 2015, and beyond. Consumer sales speak loudly, and in the recent years they’ve said that people like the simplicity and continuity of a close ecosystem of devices, such as the one Apple provides with Mac OS, iOS, and iCloud. Microsoft recognized this, and has responded with an ecosystem and user interface built for the future.
Apart from making wonderful products that seem to “just get” their users, much of Apple’s success in recent years can be somewhat attributed to wide-scale positive press. Most of the highest traffic technology and news sites feature many more Apple stories than Windows and/or Android stories on a given day. This is especially true around events such as Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference in June, and the iPhone release every Fall. Sure you could argue that the news sources are covering stories that t heir readers care about, but it is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. If consumers read more about Apple (especially if those stories are favorable, as they usually are based on Apple’s incredible product lines) they are going to think more about Apple, and thus be more likely to buy Apple when the time comes. Social psychologists might call this an availability heuristic bias, and consumer psychologists refer to this as a being on one’s automatic list. I believe that this is all going to change during the last quarter of 2012. Microsoft is innovating and pushing Metro in three main tech arenas: mobile phones, game consoles and home theatre, and personal computing. They’re going to be getting a ton of coverage in all three. When Smartglass (more on this later) and internet explorer arrive on the Xbox, you’re going to hear a lot about it. When Windows 8 drops this fall, you’ll be hearing even more about it. As people begin to love Metro on their Xboxes and computers, they are going to buy more and more Windows phones. When that happens, you’re going to hear a lot about it. Within the next 6 months, Microsoft will be garnering more press coverage than they have at any point during the last several years, maybe even decade. Sure, some of the articles will be negative reviews and rants, but as Lindsay Lohan’s publicist likes to believe, “all press is good press”.
The Metro UI and Ecosystem will reach everyone
The new Metro UI represents Microsoft’s reimagining and rebranding of Windows. Instead of opening and stacking window after window in an eternal cycle reminiscent of “infinity mirrors” at the fun house, Microsoft is taking a more literal approach to the whole Windows metaphor. Think about the front wall of a home: it probably has two or four or more windows side-by-side. Each one gives a different view of the information (information being everything outside the house). That’s how Microsoft has reimaged its Windows design. You’ve got plenty of windows–each with a different view on your digital world–and you don’t have to close one before going to the other. As I eluded to earlier, Metro will be on every current Microsoft device, in one way or another, by the end of the year. While not officially called Metro at first, the latest UI for the Xbox 360 Dashboard employs the Metro theme. Each different category is represented by a page or window, and information and apps within the category are presented as a two-dimensional pane. Moving side-to-side will bring you to each different Window or Page. This is Metro on the Xbox. Windows Phone 7 was introduced with Metro in 2010. And Metro is the centerpiece of Windows 8. When you use a Microsoft device in 2013, you will be operating from within Metro (except of course for legacy devices and computers not updated to Windows 8). Sure Metro is scary and different now, but by 2014 most won’t remember their lives without it. Once people learn (and eventually love) Metro, it will make more and more sense to purchase Windows phones. Metro will seem easier and better, and so people will desire it on their phones. The phones will be part of the whole experience and ecosystem.Everything will play so nicely together. In a sense, Microsoft is teaching us Metro. Windows phones will be big sellers, but only after more people are comfortable looking at their world with big, flat Metro windows. We’ll all look back at apps and widgets and laugh. One day.
Windows 8 will lead the revolution
Windows 8 is the corner-stone of the new Windows ecosystem, and it will simultaneously revolutionize the tablet industry and introduce Metro to the masses. When Windows 8 is released in the fall of this year, it will ship on most new computers. Samsung, Lenovo, and Asus all have some pretty remarkable Ultrabooks set to drop with Windows 8 this year, and those devices are all pretty drool-worthy. Even if you don’t like the idea of Windows 8 right now, you’ll likely be swooned by one of the many incredible computers coming out this year or next. The next time you want to buy a new Windows computer, it will be very difficult to find one not running Windows 8. Not only are these next-gen PCs marvels in design and specs, but many of them are even hybrid devices that combine the form factors of the laptop and tablet. Apple has been the undisputed king of the tablet market since they re-created it with the first iPad. Many of the apps that Apple and others have developed for the iPad are truly remarkable and wonderful. They’ve come to define what we consider a good tablet. Android has tried to make a more full-featured tablet with Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich OS versions, and they’re getting better at it. Still, neither Apple nor Google have been able to provide a full-fledged computer operating system and user interface on a tablet. With Windows 8, an OS designed equally for computer and tablet, anything you can do on a laptop you can now do on your tablet. if you’re like me and plan on purchasing one of the upcoming laptop/tablet combos, your laptop and your tablet will be one in the same. Microsoft is blurring the line between tablet and computer, and giving users a pretty good example of what Metro and the new Windows should be. Your Windows 8 tablet screen is your window to the full Metro experience. Flip the screen around and you can use your keyboard and mouse for input when you want more control. Most people end up buying keyboards for their iPads anyway, so obviously there is a desire for a go-anywhere, do-anything device with both a touchscreen and keyboard.
Xbox will rule the home theater market
Microsoft is going to make sure that the xbox is on the cutting edge of home entertainment software. They’ve already brought Metro to the Xbox dashboard, and now they plan to extend the Metro presence from your big screen to your computer, tablet, and phones screens with Smart Glass. In case you haven’t heard about it yet, Microsoft announced the upcoming release of Smart Glass for the Xbox 360 at the E3 conference this year. Smart Glass will allow any iOS, Android, or Windows device to act as a remote control, keyboard, and extra screen for your media content on the Xbox. In the photo above you see Smart Glass being advertised on an Android tablet. Microsoft doesn’t want to alienate any Xbox users with iOS or Android devices. You’ll be able to enjoy all of the Smart Glass goodness on your smart devices, with Windows Phone users getting extra goodies such as Xbox Games, Music, and Video Apps. In an interview with Venture Beat, Chief Marketing Officer Yusuf Mehdi had this to say:
What SmartGlass really does is it creates a new creative canvas for three-screen entertainment. Something that’s not happening today. It happens today in a kind of sneakernet way. You’re watching a TV show or a movie or playing a game, and in a moment, when there’s moments, you go to your device that’s handy. We know that people are playing with tablets or PCs while they’re watching TV, or they’ve got their phones in their pockets. What we’ve done is create a platform where the content creator can actually program to the devices, the devices are smart, and they are aware and they’re listening to the broadcast from the TV, and then they light up.
Microsoft has already innovated the gaming console arena in many ways, including groundbreaking user interfaces and superb movement and speech controls via the Kinect. You can now speak or swipe your way through the Dashboard of your Xbox and in apps such as Netflix and Youtube. They also announced they’ll be bringing Internet Explorer to the Xbox, so you can talk, touch (via Smart Glass) or swipe your way around the web from the comfort of your favorite seat. The Xbox was already the biggest home theatre device, majorly out-selling all set-top boxes and home theatre pcs. Once Internet Explorer hits the Xbox, it’ll be everything Google hoped GoogleTV would be. Ostensibly, as more and more people are considering buying set-top boxes, home theatre pcs, and smart tvs, Microsoft is busy ensuring Xbox is the best choice for many with innovative features, great connectivity across platforms, and a full-range of entertainment utilities and abilities (you can’t play COD on an Apple TV). WinSuperSite has a good summary of some of the new features coming soon to the Xbox experience:
Internet Explorer for Xbox. Microsoft is making Internet Explorer available for the Xbox, as you probably know, and while it will feature the IE 9 rendering engine, the Xbox version of the browser will closely resemble the Metro look and feel of IE 10 on Windows 8. And, as Whitten notes, “with the power of Kinect and Xbox SmartGlass, you’ll able to navigate websites with any device or the sound of your voice.”
Favorites. Microsoft is evolving its content pinning capability, available currently on the Xbox 360, into something called Favorites. Whitten explains: “Favorites allows you to personalize the dashboard by saving your movies, TV, games, music and the web right to the home screen in the dashboard. Favorites will make it easier and faster than ever to get to your favorite content on Xbox and Xbox LIVE.”
Xbox apps for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. As I previously noted in my Xbox Music Preview, Windows Phone 8 (and the Xbox 360) will also be getting the same Xbox apps that we’re seeing on Windows 8: Xbox Games, Xbox Music, and Xbox Video.
Improved Bing Search on Xbox 360. As highlighted during Microsoft’s E3 media briefing, the Bing Search features on the Xbox 360 are being evolved to include genre search in addition to the currently available movie, TV show, and actor search. Somewhat obvious, but welcome.
Even if you no longer play games, Microsoft wants to ensure you’re using your Xbox almost every day.
The last five years have seen Apple rise to the top of the tech industry, and rightfully so. With the App Store, iTunes, the iPhone and iPad, Apple has been giving customers what they want: seamless and thoughtful mobile technology that just works and works well together. Microsoft took note, and put a lot of it eggs in one basket in attempting to predict the next step. Microsoft has gone all-in with Metro, and has been subtly introducing it to us for two years now. Microsoft is on the verge of their next big revolution, similar to the one Apple started a few years ago with the iPhone and iOS. Because Microsoft is releasing so many new things over an extended period of time, they will dominate the tech conversation on the web for the first time in years. Instead of every other tech story being about apple, we will be seeing people talk about Windows 8, Windows 8 tablets and laptops, Metro UI, Windows Phone 8, and the updated Xbox experience making every touchscreen an extension of your Xbox media center. When the conversation tips, the sales will follow, leading to even more stories about Microsoft (stories about earnings and the sales figures of devices that have already been featured in earlier stories). Microsoft has seen the future and Metro is here to stay. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Microsoft next year. If you buy stocks, now is a great time to buy Microsoft. In fact, I think I may go and make my first stock market transaction and buy some Microsoft stock: like Metro, it’s a good investment.