pyehouse
20Sep/110

Metro and iOS – One Goal, Two Approaches

I want to touch on this subject once more, because I think it deserves some more attention. I imagine Metro is getting overplayed a bit, but as almost anyone will point out, Metro is essentially Windows Phone 7's interface writ large. Or put another way, where WP7 was a revolution for Microsoft, Metro is the next evolutionary step from WP7, putting it onto the desktop in addition to mobile devices. Yet this isn't so very different from what Apple has been moving toward with various UI elements bouncing back and forth between iOS and OS X and then, earlier this year, the 'Back to the Mac' themed WWDC conference. The fact is both Microsoft and Apple are pushing toward a unified UI strategy. They're just taking different tacks getting there.

The Red Queen - Metro's New Look

I've mentioned elsewhere that I don't dislike Metro. I can't say I like it all that much either. It's definitely different, definitely featureful. I'm not looking forward to some of the support sessions I am no doubt going to be involved with when some of my clients end up with a new computer with Windows 8 installed and no clue how to operate the new UI. Still, I think there are a number of things Microsoft is doing right with Windows 8. One thing I've already mentioned that I think they're doing wrong is making too big a change in the UI too quickly. The shift from Windows XP to Vista and on to Windows 7 didn't involve large paradigm shifts in UI usage and even so there were some complaints for users who were used to the "way things were". But by and large, things have gotten better, folks got used to the new look and layout and things were more or less okay. Windows 8 looks to upend all of that by introducing what is, for all intents and purposes, a completely new way of doing things. Technically anyone who has a Windows Phone 7 device now is already exposed to the core principles. But that's a very small number of people really. I'm not trying to rehash my previous article, but I do want to point out that this whole hog approach is very purposeful. It's not an accident that Microsoft is doing this. I think they realize just how much risk this gambit involves and I think they are going about it with eyes wide open. The question is, why? I'll get to that in a bit.

The White Queen - iOS's Slow Play

Apple on the other hand is taking a slow approach. They introduced iOS, with UI elements similar to those on OS X. The expanded on those elements. Then over time, things have slowly begun to merge. With Lion, we now have the Launchpad to mimic iOS home screen functionality, the scrolling and scroll bars are behaving like they do on iOS, swipes are beginning to work similarly, full screen mode is being rolled out, though not pushed out... slowly we are seeing the iOSification of OS X which itself was the basis for iOS. The emphasis here is slow. OS X is still fundamentally OS X. Take someone who's only familiar with OS X 10.0 and sit them down in front of Lion and they'll still be able to do anything. The reversed scrolling will confuse the hell out of them at first, granted, but once you get them past that hurdle, they'll be fine. Put someone on an iOS device and, as has been mentioned elsewhere, the gestures and usage seem relatively intuitive. People pick it up easily and things work as you would expect them to. Yet as dissimilar as the two environments are, they are being brought together. How much further we have yet to go, I can't say. What I can say is that on the current course, it's going to be a subtle shift and I if the scrolling "controversy" is any indication, it will involve little fuss.

King's Gambit

So why then would Microsoft jump so quickly to unify their UI with a fast play that may involve more pain and more screaming from consumers? Simple. The iPad. If it weren't for the fact that the iPad is trouncing all comers in the tablet space, Microsoft would not feel the need to renovate their very non-touch-oriented OS for tablet use. Yes, Windows Phone 7 is already out and seems to be a precursor to anything in the Metro interface, intimating it was in the development pipeline before Windows 8. I'd be willing to bet that Windows Phone 7 was, in fact, a product of the effort to get Windows 8 out and available for desktop and tablet use. Moreover, I think they bet on the phone strategy because at least in the phone space there has been some indication of room to grow, with Android devices challenging the iPhone's dominance and leaving hope that Microsoft might be able to push some of these devices out rapidly. Of course, I can't know for sure. But tell me... if Microsoft really wanted to, couldn't they have simply held off on finalizing Windows 8 and making it operate on smartphones and done a simultaneous release? Surely the WP7 team knew about Windows 8 development. It seems they clearly wanted WP7 out in the real world for users to play with and get used to the interface before Windows 8 was out and available. And they wanted that momentum to carry them forward into deploying Windows 8 on desktops (a lesser concern) as well as new tablet devices now based on Windows 8 and standing a chance in hell against the iPad.

Microsoft is rushing their UI unification in order to take on Apple in the tablet space, with Windows Phone 7 as the vanguard of the UI makeover. I don't know how successful their gambit will be, but as I look it over, I think it's the only move they could make.

5Sep/110

Microsoft Is Watching You

The Guardian is reporting that a lawsuit was filed last Wednesday claiming Microsoft is tracking users of Windows Phone 7 devices even in situations when location information was purportedly disabled. In the article, and in the ensuing discussion about the case, Apple's name was inevitably dragged into the fray, focusing on the hubbub that was brought forth in April concerning the 'consolidated.db' file which stored timestamped latitude/longitude values, sometimes as far back as a year. As Josh Halliday at The Guardian puts it:

The lawsuit follows mounting concern about how technology giants, including Apple and Google, record users' private data. Microsoft, Nokia, Apple and Google were called before the US Congress in April to explain their privacy policies after security researchers uncovered hidden location-tracking software in iPhones. Google Android phones were subsequently found to gather location data, but required users' explicit permission.

There's nothing inherently flawed with the quote above. Yes, there was concern about the possibility of tracking by several large companies. Yes the aforementioned companies were called before Congress. But no further mention is made of how Apple closed things out. And I imagine things will be a bit different with Microsoft.

To begin with, Microsoft's declaration in their letter to Congress reads similarly to Apple's press release with regard to what each company states they collect. Essentially they both claim to only track approximate location in order to provide a better user experience. In both cases, a small portion of the entire database of known Wi-Fi and cell tower locations is sent to the phone in order to be prepared to quickly obtain a more precise GPS based location on demand. Both companies also state that they honor the disabling of location services by disallowing the dissemination of this information to apps on the device which make a location request.

The differences begin with how the outcry started in each case. For Apple, the existence of the database had long been known by those technically savvy enough to snoop around the iPhone's internals and figure out what they were looking at. It wasn't until Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden revealed an open source utility to fetch the database for your viewing pleasure that things were sent into damage control. Shortly thereafter, Apple issued their press release which stated, among other things:

7. When I turn off Location Services, why does my iPhone sometimes continue updating its Wi-Fi and cell tower data from Apple’s crowd-sourced database?  
It shouldn’t. This is a bug, which we plan to fix shortly (see Software Update section below).

It further added:

Software Update 
Sometime in the next few weeks Apple will release a free iOS software update that:

    • reduces the size of the crowd-sourced Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower database cached on the iPhone,
    • ceases backing up this cache, and
    • deletes this cache entirely when Location Services is turned off.

In the next major iOS software release the cache will also be encrypted on the iPhone.

That was it for Apple. They would issue a free update that would cease even grabbing the cached data if you disabled location tracking, reduce the amount of cached data retained, cease backing it up if you did retain it, and delete the cache entirely if you disabled location tracking. Moreover, the next major iOS release encrypted it locally when it was stored. There were never any accusations of tomfoolery on Apple's part.

In Microsoft's case, the first sounding of the gong is the result of a lawsuit filed in Microsoft's own backyard so to speak. Not simply an indication of something a techie found that was subsequently addressed but rather someone essentially throwing down with them. Of course, frivolous lawsuit are filed all the time, but I don't see any advantage to be had here unless there is some truth to it. Even so, it's an interesting distinction in terms of how the starting gun sounded.

So now we're waiting to hear from Microsoft, to get their side of the story. Apple took 7 days to complete their response, and I imagine some of that time was spent with engineering, looking for the bug they spoke of. There was, I'm sure, time spent mulling over release dates, etc. We're still within the same 7 day mark for Microsoft's response, and they have at least indicated they will be responding though I figure that was a given. I wonder if they'll admit it was a problem and indicate how they'll be fixing it, or if they'll take a more defensive posture. I'm guessing the latter. Regardless, I'll be getting the popcorn and pulling up a chair. This ought to be interesting.

2Sep/110

Windows Phone 7 Will Not Steal (Much) From iOS

Techcrunch is reporting that Gardner and IDC predict a 20 percent market share for Windows Phone 7 by 2015. Said to be a conservative estimate, it appears to be based on several factors:

  • HP dropping webOS, leaving potential developers to jump ship to another mobile platform
  • Microsoft pushing new product in Europe
  • Microsoft marketing to women and youth

Let's take a look at these. HP dumped webOS because of a change in direction by their new CEO. I won't go into why he chose to do this, but yes webOS is dead, or at least its twitching body is soon to be laid to rest, barring a last minute rescue at any rate. But how popular was webOS really? Wonderful as it may be, webOS never gained much traction in terms of actual rubber-to-road users. And like it or not, no matter how good your platform is, developers go where the users are. Where are the users? Not on webOS. So how much of a bump would Microsoft get if every single webOS developer suddenly migrated to developing for the platform? Not much. And that bump would be made smaller by the fact that developers on marginal platforms tend to cross develop to multiple platforms. In other words, webOS developers are probably already developing for other platforms including Windows Phone 7. While market share is zero sum game, developer share is another thing entirely. So I wouldn't expect many more apps to be added to the WP7 platform by webOS developers because many of them may already be there.

What about Microsoft's sales efforts in Europe? Currently Windows Phone 7 barely registers a blip on the radar. They have their work cut out for them, and releasing "hundreds" of salesmen into the market to try to "better demonstrate the product" might not have the anticipated effect. Certainly it can't hurt to have more professionals out pushing your product, but in reality you are far more likely to buy into a platform because of one of two reasons: you are used to it already and are simply jumping to new hardware or someone you already know and trust shows you how the new platform is better. Which is to say, word of mouth. And right now, word of mouth is working against Microsoft, not for it.

What about targeting women and young/first-time buyers? I can't speak to how or why WP7 might appeal to women in particular, though the claim is made. Still, saying it is particularly appealing to women speaks to a relative appeal between genders. It doesn't mean women are necessarily desiring WP7 phones more than other platform's devices. Just that women are more likely to want a WP7 than men. Again, assuming Achim Berg's, head of  Windows Phone marketing, assertion is true. As for first-time buyers, well, you can't buy cool.

Am I saying iOS is unassailable? Absolutely not. Look at Android. It has its problems, certainly, but Android has grabbed its own slice of the pie by differentiating itself from iOS. App availability is there, although the app store experience is, in my opinion, of lower quality. But it is theoretically far more tweakable than any iOS device. What exactly will WP7 bring to the table that is going to truly mark itself as being different enough from iOS to warrant grabbing market share there? Because that is what they are going to have to do no matter who they want market share from. They need to be different enough and in a good way, if they want to be picked from a lineup that includes some of the most popular phones currently produced. Even carrier availability is disappearing as a viable means of differentiation as iOS devices are beginning to appear on more networks worldwide.

No, Windows Phone 7 is not going to steal much, if any, market share from iOS, certainly not based on the information available today from Mr. Berg and the analysts down the hall.