Often, a company that focuses on its core strength will undoubtedly succeed. Microsoft’s core strength is user interface technology. What is user interface technology? Finger tapping away a schedule reminder on a mobile device and mouse clicking a post button on a blogging app are interactions. The schedule, the buttons, and all the things you see visually all comprise the user interface. The user interface, besides the hardware itself, is most people’s gateway to the device, the computer. Microsoft is the leading company in user interface technology advancement.
User Interface Design
Apple is the leading company in mass-market user interface design. The way a user interface appears, your ability to understand it easily, and how well it is represented as a medium between you and the device are all important. Millions who adopted iPhones, iPads, iMacs, and Macbooks appreciate well-conceived design. Apple expresses their take on design in both the user interface shown on the screens of their devices and the physical arrangement of those devices. Their take is quality, simplicity, and serenity.
User Interface Technology
On the other side, you have a perspective that is less about holistic design and more about technological function. Like the holistic, high quality design perspective, the technology-centric focus does address the question of “the experience of technology”. This is achieved by amplifying the function aspect in a way that solves problems through capability rather than nuanced approaches. Microsoft mastered the mass-market capability approach in terms of the idea of new capabilities. User interface being the foremost of those capabilities they strive to enhance alongside on-premise infrastructure technology.
At one point, a large number of people decided to adopt user interfaces from Apple and Google. Solutions in the form of devices, apps, and operating systems seemed to fit well with the total experience those persons were seeking. An experience that was more personal than what mass-market laptop computer user interfaces from Microsoft seemed able to deliver. It appears that the momentum for user interface and infrastructure technology favors Apple and Google while Amazon.com is at the top of the off-premise infrastructure adoption curve.
Microsoft’s official strategy is known to center around subscriber based, off-premise infrastructure as well as user interfaces for mobile systems. The unofficial strategy includes sustaining laptop computer centric technology, on-premise infrastructure technology, and recreation technology, and those solutions for niche organizational processes. Those are the legs of strategy, but what about tactics.
The tactical by-products confirm the sense that established solutions from Microsoft will continue to be produced by them for the next few decades. Microsoft Windows is evolving to be much more hardware adaptable. Microsoft Windows Server, SQL Server, and Exchange will live on as on-premise solutions if organization remain committed to their use. XBox is a no-brainer. Dozens of solutions by the name of SharePoint, Dynamics, Lync and so on continue undaunted. Microsoft remains deeply embedded in organizational IT.
Some say perception is reality. The public perception is that Microsoft Windows is declining in relevance due to mobile technology expansion. The story continues that they must embrace the cloud alongside the likes of Google and Amazon.com to sustain their future. Some are watching to see if another Windows release fails to gain widely favorable reception leading to the demise of Windows laptop computer systems on the way to something else like Apple Macbooks, Google Chromebooks, or maybe one day, HP’s The Machine.
Perhaps some of this perception originates from market speculation. If Microsoft is perceived to have much lower growth than alternatives, then those alternatives should be emphasized. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy especially if their profitable enterprise business growth appears less relevant than the overall daily life technology domain driven by hardware and user interface that is increasingly less Microsoft. This is the reigning perception.
Regaining Perceptual Momentum
What does this have to do with user interfaces? More specifically, Microsoft’s role as the master of interactive tech? The point is that people do not use technology for technology’s own sake. Nearly everyone in a daily living role who use technology, use it not only to do things but inevitably integrates that technology into their environment. Consumer electronics is outwardly image driven and when computer technology is fused into them, such as the case with smart televisions, smart phones, thermostats, wristwatches, and automatic vacuum cleaners, user interface is part of that image. Microsoft’s background is not traditionally in these areas but, as I stated earlier, it is strongly in other areas.
Many announcements were made about Microsoft technology on the third Wednesday of Jan. 2015. They had the ring of excitement and the sense of a powerful changes coming from Microsoft. Partnerships involving NASA were mentioned, huge advances for business staff meeting technology was on display, and Windows looks like it is going to be capable of doing some amazing things.
My very first impression when I encountered the news on these things late in the day was a sense that Microsoft may actually be on the road to renewed momentum. Since I have seen this scenario before, I had to stop and think for a minute. What are likely outcomes?
We have just finished a tour through the world of context. I stopped making forecasts a while back but that does not forego general evaluation. How might one consider the announcements of January 2015?
Consider the user interface technology called Windows Holographic. It sounds exciting. It is cool and it is terrific. It is futuristic and highly advanced. Many can sit back and see it as a technological dream come true. Unfortunately, it requires glasses called HoloLens. As holographic technology goes, it is not the real thing.
Maybe 30 or 60 years from now, it could be the basis of the real thing, but it right now it is a systems that puts a dedicated display screen on your face. Organizations who can fund the software development and willingly gather the necessary hardware may realize applications in industrial, medical, and, in the case of NASA, scientific analysis.
Many organizations could be willing to invest in rooms large enough where people can walk around with the glasses on without bumping into anything. Is it a likely possibility in the worlds of consumer electronics and daily life, practical use of technology? That latter scenario do not seem to exist.
Another user interface technology, Cortana may become part of Windows. Although I like my computer quiet, I can see this as a good technology as long as I have the option to completely turn it off. Cortana can be a successful addition for those times when speaking is definitely faster than typing, clicking or even tapping. Are people ready to talk to their computers often enough to boost the momentum away from the rising tide of alternatives? It may turn out to be a good user interface technology implementation.
Surface Hub sounds really, really nice. My goodness, does Microsoft know how to make some good business office technology. I does not find its way into home settings before Samsung advances their use of Tizen OS technology on their smart televisions. Even though this, and many other technologies from Microsoft may be more relevant to running a business than living a life, that does not mean that Microsoft’s relevance declines entirely. It only means that if their consumer side momentum does not keep pace, their investments then shift decidedly more in the direction of business technology.
Many once marveled at the prospect of the Blue Screen of Death, the continuing malware infections, and the frantic pace of change in even the smallest aspects of Microsoft technology. I think with Windows 8 and other solutions from Microsoft since, those problems are far less likely to occur in the future. Windows 8 is faster, more secure, and more stable than its predecessors and I expect that Windows 10 will be even better. Does that mean that Windows will finally shed a reputation for zero-day vulnerabilities, general insecurity, unsteady performance and reliability on certain types of hardware, or inadequate built-in software? I am thinking possibly not, but I am an optimist and think that turning the corner on these issues is possible.
The Master of User Interface Tech
The capabilities they present are powerful in concept and sometimes quite indulgent in form. The secret juice of Microsoft technology is the high cognitive comfortable level of their approach to representing computer functions. Many functions presented as easy. It looks good and it is easy. Concerning, security, performance, stability, and computer control, this is where it begins to end. All those functions cannot possibly sit well together, but they do look well together. They all fit until they don’t in practice, from strategy to technological implementation. For Microsoft, that may become the greatest challenge of all.