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“While [Windows 10] will give developers the unprecedented ability to develop apps that work on PCs, tablets, and smartphones with a single application development effort, it does not show enough potential for a differentiated mobile experience that will draw developers and consumers away from iOS and Android,” Gillett said.

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BEFORE WE TALK TILES…

Ok. Here we are. It’s January 21, 2015. Big day. Huge Day. Well it is to Microsoft anyway; and to a horde of tech enthusiasts, investors and maybe even to Microsoft rivals like Apple and Google. To the regular Joe or Jane consumer, like my wife who had no idea of the significance of this day (seems this Windows Fan has work to do), the ramifications of what Microsoft presents today may not hit them until the product is in their hands, or on their desks, or in their internet connected devices. We’re talking about Windows 10 of course; Microsoft’s reimagining of Windows that will run across a family of devices from desktops, tablets, phones and Internet of Things devices. Yeah it’s a big deal, and interested or not, what Microsoft introduces to its 1.5 billion personal computer install base matters. Really matters.

What You Know

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If you’re reading this you’ve likely had an opportunity to read a deluge of articles leading up to today with titles like “What to Expect in Windows 10” or “Windows 10: Microsoft’s Last Chance to Make Windows Relevant.” And if you’re a news hound like myself you’ll probably be sniffing those articles out up until the 9am PST/12pm EST time of the announcement and live stream. Thus you are all probably well versed on “what to expect”. You know things like

    • Cortana, our favorite personal assistant making her desktop/tablet debut replacing search on the PC. Hopefully this also translates to some really magical interaction with Cortana across devices.
    • Spartan, the aptly named light weight, Cortana enhanced browser that seeks to take on Mobile powerhouses like Chrome and Safari.
    • Enhanced by DirectX 12, PC Gaming will apparently be aligned closer to Microsoft’s popular and cool Xbox Gaming.
    • A Single Code and Single Store will unify Windows across form factors providing developers with the tools to “write once” for various devices. Additionally With a single Store app purchases/downloads for consumers becomes a much simpler and efficient affair.
  • Continuum: Windows 10’s ability to “recognize” the type of device it’s on and conform accordingly to a desktop environment when a keyboard is detected, or launch into the finger friendly, Live Tile Start Screen, when in tablet mode. (I believe there is a prompt that requires user confirmation.) Continuum is also the cohesive experience of a user across devices; where “activity” exists in that ephemeral space between devices.
  • Windows Phone and Windows RT joining forces. Yes small tablets and phone will run the same version of Windows. This in my view gives a great opportunity to make Windows (Phone) a much more powerful device.

So there you have it. These are most of the highlights of what we’ve all read we should expect. So I’m not going to waste your time with echoing what you already know. Instead I’d like to venture down another path. A road less travelled if you will. Frank Gillett, an analyst for Forrester Research had this to say about Windows 10:

  “While [Windows 10] will give developers the unprecedented ability to develop apps that work on PCs, tablets, and smartphones with a single application development effort, it does not show enough potential for a differentiated mobile experience that will draw developers and consumers away from iOS and Android,” Gillett said.

What Windows 10 Won’t Do

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Yep. Windows 10‘s unified front may indeed draw developers in to cater to Microsoft’s tremendous PC user base in time. But if the only achievement is that now the slow moving underdog finally has the app selection the entrenched rivals with committed and locked in users has then there may be little appeal for iOS and Android users to switch given that they can already do on their devices what Microsoft will be finally be making available for them to do on theirs.

See here’s the thing. Most people are not really that invested in their OS. You know the general public. Not we tech folks who can rattle off specs and features at a drop of a hat. You know people like your mom, grandmother, pastor, kid, spouse – frankly anyone who is not a tech head. What the regular smartphone user cares about, is can this device do what I want it to do? That normally then translates into does it have the apps that perform the functions I need it to perform to help me accomplish the tasks I need to accomplish? The answer for about 97% of the smartphone market, about 90% android users and 17% iOS users is yes, my Android device and iPhone does exactly what I need it to do.

Add to that Apple’s proclivity for locking users in via proprietary hardware, accessories and software snares. And androids ubiquity which engenders support from a myriad of third party accessory OEMs and developers, that 97% of the market has a significant portion of that audience significantly locked in.

Ouch. That’s painful news for Microsoft and Windows fans who want to see life flow into the Live Tile adorned OS. Hmmmmm. And that may actually be the key. Live Tiles that is.

Live Tiles

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You see, at this point in the mobile era we have all become quite accustomed to apps. You download them to your device, tap the icon and voila the app opens and away you go using and interacting with the app and the content or people it gives you access to. Yaaaaawwwnnn. That’s so 2009. Microsoft in 2010 took another approach when it introduced Windows 7. Live Tiles.

Live Tiles take the best of an icon (unobtrusive) and widget (alive and able to be interacted with) to create a User Interface that provides users with access to content within the app without having to tap, open and use the app. The information you desire is right there on the Start screen in many cases. “Glance and Go” was Microsoft’s early Windows 7 tagline.

So what does this have to do with Windows 10 and the potential to grab some of those 97% iOS and android users? Live Tiles have been flipping and displaying information since 2010 and few consumers have barely even glanced.

Well the market in many developed countries is saturated with smartphones. That is to say, virtually everyone has one, is accustomed to them and is used to the, uh, archaic way we interact with apps. Download an app, place a “dead” icon on the start screen, tap it , it opens, we use it. Yes that model, anyone with a smidgeon of imagination knows must eventually change. I submit Microsoft’s Next Chapter is a good time.

Interactive Live Tiles

Before I proceed I’d like to acknowledge what some of you may have already considered. Android’s widgets. Yes android has interactive widgets, but not every app can be a widget and widgets don’t present the seamless unobtrusive flow of apps across a Start screen like Live Tiles do.

Now imagine a model where users can see and interact with content, data and people without launching an app. Sounds nice doesn’t it? Progressive even. Maybe even the next evolution in mobile computing. Microsoft Live Tiles, more than iOS’s static icons and androids widgets are positioned for this next step in the mobile user experience.

We have been introduced to this concept which Microsoft has apparently been tinkering with, that was to launch in the now defunct (or delayed) McLaren. Exploding tiles, where a user hovers their finger over a tile to initiate an “explosion” of smaller tiles from the main tile, each of which contains some content or means to interact with the app without launching it. Phenomenal! Alas, the McLaren did not launch accompanied with Microsoft’s claim that it was not prepared. The exploding tile implementation too was delayed. Delayed not canceled.

Reports emerged that that concept may still see the light of day, howbeit not in the “touchless” iteration that was planned for the McLaren. If implemented now at this stage in the mobile war, it may not be groundbreaking in the planned ways touchless interaction would have introduced but it could be the groundbreaking game changer Microsoft needs to differentiate a user app experience on its platform.

Better

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Why switch to Windows if my iOS or Android device has the apps that allow me to do what I want it to do. Answer: Microsoft’s Interactive Live Tiles does it better. In developed nations we (right or wrong) often subscribe to the notion that bigger and faster and newer is better. It’s true. That’s why two years after the fulfillment of a carrier contract we are dumping perfectly good devices for the bigger, faster and newer device. We’ve been convinced it’s better. Now with ATT’s Next, Verizon’s Edge and T-Mobile’s Jump programs our desire for the newer and fresher iterations of our mobile computing devices is satiated even sooner. What am I saying? We like new. And if sold to us properly – we buy it.

The 97% of smartphone (android and iOS) users have been using a particular model of app interaction for almost eight (8) years now since the launch of the first iPhone in 2007, then the first android device shortly thereafter. That’s an eternity in computer years! Yes iOS refreshed its UI ridding the OS of those skeuomorphic designs. Android Lollipop has moved things along with Material Design making an aesthetically pleasing UI. But the way a user interacts with the data, content and connections via apps has remained unchanged for iOS and Android users. They’re still using a 2007 model!

Microsoft has an opportunity to evolve its Live Tile implementation to the next level of app interaction. Imagine pinning a Contact to the Start screen and via multiple exploding tiles choose to view either Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn updates. Or select a call option that presents itself as an exploding tile. Or having the ability to filter what is displayed on their main tile. Suppose you want to see all of their Facebook photos, or Twitter posts, or Linked Updates, or maybe just their text messages or WhatsApp messages to you. Live Tiles.

Imagine being able to swipe through messages on your message tile, or your photos on your photo tile. Imagine a photos hub that is reconnected to social networks. If there is someone you care about whose photo updates on Facebook, Flickr, Tumbler etc. you’d love to see cycle through your Photos tile, Live Tiles can be enhanced to provide this option.

Imagine controlling Music via exploding controls on the music tile or advancing tracks with a gesture on the tile. Imaging viewing or previewing video on the video tile. Or imagine cycling through YouTube videos of your YouTube subscriptions and preview selected videos on your YouTube (third party I know) tile. Imagine liking a Facebook post or retweeting a Tweet from a Live Tile. The possibilities of app interaction via interactive Live Tiles is vast. Extraordinarily vast.

Microsoft is establishing the necessary foundation with Windows 10 to get developers on board with a unified code and a single Store. Live Tiles is their unique weapon in this mobile war that will allow them to differentiate how users experience apps on mobile devices. No one has done that since 2007. If Microsoft embraces this challenge they will be giving developers a new and vast landscape to pioneer new app user experiences. Users can then be courted with new, faster and bigger ways to experience apps on their mobile devices. Microsoft’s job will be to show them how it is better. If they’re successful – we will buy it.

Visit the Following Sway:

“A Windows Phone’s Fans Lament and Praise of Windows Phone”