Why put Windows 8-Style Interface (Metro) everywhere?


This is a piece that I have written for my new blog but until I build up a bigger readership I will also post here. I understand that today Microsoft has urged for their new interface not to be called Metro. However for this post I will continue to call it Metro as I cannot bring myself to call it Windows 8-Style UI.

With the upcoming release of Windows 8 there has been pretty mixed opinions of the Metro start menu. Many claim that it really works well on a tablet device, but, I think that it is safe to say that its usefulness on a non-touchscreen computer is questionable. This will make the upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8 particularly jarring, and in a market where many struggle the slightest change in layout, this will likely not be met with open-arms. It is not the first time that Microsoft seemed to simply shoe-horn the Metro interface onto its devices, with the Xbox dashboard now sporting the tile-based interface. The dashboard update that greatly decreased the ease of navigation around the Xbox from the already imperfect Blade interface. So why is Microsoft so insistent on forcing Metro everywhere at the cost of most of its devices?

I believe that the reasoning for the inclusion of lies not in Windows 8 nor the Xbox dashboard. Instead, I think that the the shift to Metro is for Windows Phone, which as a mobile OS has not really captured the masses. The reasons for the current failure of Windows Phone are unclear and seemingly plentiful ranging from lack of good apps to rapidly ageing hardware. However, one such issue is the failure of Windows Phone to provide a good first impression. When consumers are browsing for a new phone they will likely spend less than 5 minutes comparing different phones and OS’s and so to gain users a phone has to stand out immediately or the customer will fall to familiarity (most likely the iPhone). So when Windows Phone is presented to the shopper, they will see a screen filled with sparse tiles mostly of the same colour and when they open an app they will once again see a scarce screen but this time with mostly text (lets ignore the crappy screen). Its not hard to see why the iPhone sells so well when the customer chooses a phone with this testing process. It follows that when Windows 8 tablets are in shops the shoppers will chose tablet in the same way, except that in the tablet market it will be much harder to dislodge the iPad than it is for Windows Phone to replace the iPhone.

This leads me to why Microsoft is putting Metro everywhere. They want Metro to be the familiar, which I guess is the same reasoning behind the inclusion of Windows in the name of almost every consumer facing product (the major exception to this being the Xbox). Microsoft want the “Oh this is like what I have at home/work!” reaction of customers. It wants people to have the sense that they won’t have to relearn how to do things, but instead just like the start menu or the Xbox. If Microsoft can create this feeling then it will be much easier to sell the devices with just a first impression. Just think of those who won’t buy a Mac because they are “used to” Windows, although this is decreasing mainly thanks to iOS. However, with the implementation of Metro on non-touch devices being pretty poor in my experience, will the increased difficulty of navigation on these machines actually dissuade consumers from Metro? It will have to be seen.