A New Metro / Bing

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Having used an iPhone since 2008, I decided to turn to Windows Phone for something different a few weeks ago. While I remain doubtful of Windows Phone’s prospect to win the smartphone market as is and on its competitors’ terms, I see in Metro a clear potential to disrupt the future of mobile computing and do to it what the original iPhone did to the smartphone market in 2007. I’ve been using a Nokia Lumia 800 [cyan] for a few weeks now, and Metro has given me lots to think about. I’m going to share with you a few things that I think Microsoft could do to change it up a bit. These ideas really are developed around Microsoft’s original goals with the platform, which are to focus on the individual & their tasks and to help organize information and applications.

Before you dive in, I just want to make it known that I’ll be using Metro, and not Windows Phone to refer to the design platform. I think these points are, for lack of a better term, universal.

BING

One of the things I was most impressed by back when Windows Phone 7 Series was revealed at Mobile World Congress in 2010 was none other than its streamlined picture-taking experience. On the surface, there was nothing revolutionary about it, but it was a prime example of what you could accomplish with an integrated design process. The software sang with the hardware. From pulling the phone out of your pocket to sharing it on Facebook, what used to take minutes became possible in just seconds. Even by today’s standards, that was still a pretty badass achievement. Microsoft focused on eliminating experience friction from the process, and the swipe-left-to-gallery and swipe-right-to-viewfinder gestures in Camera are the best examples for one of Metro’s design principles, Content is UI.

This got me thinking about how Metro could significantly improve the other function that we use frequently on phones that happens to also have a dedicated hardware button on Windows Phone: Search.

When Belfiore first took the stage to introduce Windows Phone, he talked about integrated experiences, which 1) creates a common destination for common tasks 2) organizes the web, applications, information and 3) the sum is greater than the parts. Search has become incredibly integrated—both web search and desktop search. However, search on mobile remains unnecessarily fragmented and largely ignorant to the factor unique to mobile: context.

Right now, if I want to see the reviews of a sushi restaurant right in front of me, I have to either go into the Yelp app or Bing to type to search ‘sushi’. As a user, I now not only have to decide which application(or search engine) but also which input method might be best for a particular query. It’s so counter-intuitive.

Let’s say if I’m in front of a sushi restaurant, and I want to look up reviews for the restaurant. For Paul Miller(or someone living sans the Internet), he/she would probably first see and read the name of the sushi restaurant, call his pals at the Verge, pick up a Sunday copy of the New York Times, or awkwardly ask a stranger coming out of the restaurant for reviews.

I want my phone to do just that, except with the Internet. The phone would gather information from the time of the day, calendar appointments, location, orientation and camera feed, check-in data, social networks, prioritize them, and know what I’m looking for and give me what I want. I want the phone to be me.

Based on Content is UI and integrated experiences, this is my take of what search could be with Metro:

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When you tap on the new Bing search bar on the new Start Screen, your phone becomes you. Not to pull a Samsung here, but what I mean by "your phone becomes you" truly means that it sees, it listens, and it thinks.

The background is a live video/photo feed from the phone camera and Bing continuously analyzes the video and samples the photo feed every 5 to 10 seconds. The volume bar on the right indicates the microphone input and Bing similarly analyzes the audio in the background. Bing also dives into my social networks and other Big Data stuff.

In this case, Bing was able to prioritize and figure out that information received from the photo feed was most relevant. It presents that information in the white overlay area at the bottom. If I wanted to view all the results Bing analyzed thus far, I could tap on the number ‘7’ in the corner, which was dynamically updated as more results are added/removed, to reveal the full list of results. Each item in the list of results would take me directly to the relevant page in an installed application or webpage.

I think with mobile, our search behavior has shifted from learning more about to identifying, from the virtual to the physical, I think Metro has a great opportunity in front of it if it could rebuild search from the ground up, if it could provide a way for third parties to integrate their search functions into an integrated Bing experience. As to how the third parties could share search revenues with Microsoft...I have a proposed solution coming up in the final entry into this series.

Lastly, please pardon my use of the English language. After all these years, I’m still not that great at writing. But I do look forward to sharing my thoughts and having great, insightful conversations only fellow Verge readers can provide.

Update:

Forum member uberlaff summed it up for me nicely:

You’re on to something here. I think there are a lot of benefits of that they could bring to Bing if they could step away from some of the design that exists on the desktop. This goes exactly to what you are saying with immediately start searching video and audio data. The current functionality gets lost on the Bing homepage for new users who are afraid or not drawn to click buttons. What you have shown is much more user friendly even if it’s not as pleasant as seeing and cute image from Bing’s homepage.