Windows 8 UI sneak peak

Yesterday Microsoft released their ‘first’ preview video of the touch user interface for Windows 8 (codename). Here’s the video on YouTube.

Here are a few of my initial thoughts…

The Windows 8 touch interface shows that Microsoft is serious about embracing touch and slate-based modes of use within Windows™ itself – as it should be. Clearly Microsoft has thought hard about how to integrate the casual consumption model of tablet devices with ‘real’ operating system features like multi-tasking, file system access and rich applications that require extensive user input (like Office). This makes sense – why abandon the power and familiarity of Windows if they can possibly help it? Hopefully, the underlying hardware has evolved enough in the time since the iPad’s launch that Microsoft doesn’t have to compromise on the capability of the operating system to deliver the performance and battery life consumers will expect.

The use of scrolling panels of tiles is a natural extension of the use of tiles and panning ‘panoramas’ in Windows Phone 7, which are proving popular with users. Swiping left and right to scroll through choices is a very natural action, and leverages both spatial memory and muscle memory to help users find (and re-find) what they need.

Swiping in from the edge of the screen to activate operating system features like task switching and other controls is an interesting idea. There are no on-screen cues to users that they can do this, but once learnt/discovered it should be an easy gesture to remember.

The use of larger, consistently sized tiles containing dynamic content has the potential to create a vista that ‘yells’ at the user – and the demonstrated use of bright, saturated colours might actually make it difficult for users to discriminate between tiles and to focus on individual tile content. We know that people use various cues to search the visual field. Outline shape is one of the primary prompts to help people discriminate and identify objects visually. The dominant and consistent rectangular shape of the tiles themselves means Windows 8 users cannot use this outline shape as the primary cue. They must instead rely on colour and the actual tile contents. Compare that to the carefully designed icons in Microsoft Office™ products. Those icons present unique outlines – for good reason.

I personally hope Microsoft will also recognise one other key differentiator, one they have had had for many years but have not been able to really capitalise on – accurate pen-based input through Windows’ support for ink and stylus. Effective stylus support (in addition to touch) will provide a key competitive advantage in the office worker and student markets.