Monday, September 23, 2013

Microsoft on the Surface

Today Microsoft released a second version of their Surface products, named Surface 2. They are both worthwhile replacements, with better processors, better screens (on what used to their RT model) and better keyboards. The Pro model, tellingly enough, now supports a stylus.

They are to be commended for trying to win in a market that has already become somewhat entrenched. For tablets, it is typically summed up as a battle between Android and iOS, but in reality it is more of a battle between several Android tablet manufacturers and Apple. Microsoft's tablets are but a speck.

There are two Surface models; the Pro model using Windows 8, and the cheaper Surface using Windows RT, which has the same UI elements of the Pro model, but doesn't run Windows 8 applications. Confusing the naming between the two is probably a mistake for Microsoft, for they are in reality very different products. It is as if Apple was to release a "Pro" version of the iPad, that couldn't run Apps made for the iPad (okay, this analogy is a little weak, bear with me).

I wish Microsoft well. I had a Windows 8 laptop, and thought it was interesting, but ultimately flawed. It always felt like I was being forced to work the way it wanted me to work. Some things felt arbitrary in how they were conceived. It was the first OS in quite a while that left be perplexed at times, wondering how the thing worked. I ended up spending time on the internet to learn how to do things such as fixing my wireless networking so that it would work correctly. It wasn't obvious to me how to work with the wireless settings.

Microsoft is clearly following the lead of Apple, as it has done for a while now. There was the Zune, which again had a nice UI but suffered a poor adoption rate for a variety of reasons - mostly because of Apple's better ecosystem and management software. Apple actually made the iPod and iPhone work better on a Windows machine than Microsoft's own product.

I think the Surface (not the Pro) should never have been made. I would abdicate the low end of the market to cheap Android tablets and possibly the iPad. It is watered down KoolAid, a confusing product that isn't quite a full Windows experience, with little 3rd party software support. That simply will never happen.

The bright spot is actually their Windows mobile efforts.The Windows Phone experience is actually pretty good, some nice UI design touches that are innovative. Their market share is very weak, and will likely always be in 3rd place, but it gives them the product differentiation they need. A Windows mobile tablet at an affordable price makes a lot of sense. It is a product that is easier for people to understand - just like Apple, you could buy software for your Windows mobile handset, and have it work on a tablet as well. This represents a good value for customers.

So, I think the Surface (not the Pro) is kind of a doomed product. I can envision people perplexed to find that their new Windows tablet really isn't a Windows tablet, but some sort of weird kind of a Windows tablet. Third party application support will be tepid; I can't imagine many developers wanting to write software for this thing.

The key to Microsoft's success is not by copying others. It is by innovating. It is not driven by making something that is kind of like something else. It comes from envisioning what people want to do, and creating products that empower them to do that. This is a key part of Apple's success. They do not throw things out on the market just to see if it will catch on. That is what Samsung does (such as their watch). Apple may seem to be a step or two behind in terms of features, but a feature list is not the same thing as innovation. That is a lesson that Microsoft can take to the bank.

Friday, September 06, 2013

About Process

I wrote this for my students to help them with their final project.


We are winding down the semester. Next week's assignment will be to come in with a pitch for your final project. In essence, begin thinking about what you want to do for your project, and ask the following questions:

1. Who is the project for?
2. What is the narrative? Can it be summed up in one sentence?
3. Determine scope of your narrative.
4. Identify materials you will need to tell the narrative.
5 Implement a rough mockup, wireframe and/or material collection

When I use the term "narrative", i am talking about either fictional or non-ficitional accounts. As an example, a web site that helps people choose a pet would possibly have the single sentence declaration "This is a site that guides users through the process of deciding what kind of animal to get as a pet, using preference information combined with living constraints." An Audio project might have a statement like "This is a musical exploration of the United State's political landscape using a combination of original and found media."

Much is written about “creative process”. 5 stages to consider are:

1. Preparation/Hypothesis 
2. incubation/data collection/experimentation/
3. synthesis/illumination/experimentation (i.e. rough draft)
4. implementation
5. assessment

Steps 4 and 5 may need to be repeated based on results.