Theoretically, of course, Microsoft should be well placed to embrace and lead the next generation of multi-touchpoint digital experiences. It has always had interests in a broad range of computing platforms, from its heartland of the PC to the Xbox games console.
However, time and again it has failed to capitalise on this breadth, struggling to find a unifying vision for these individual fiefdoms.
At last there are signs of change and they have become more frequent and significant since Satya Nadella took over as CEO.
Most recently, Microsoft’s Kevin Gallo published a blog post in which he explained how the Windows 10 universal app platform has been designed to facilitate multi-touchpoint experiences across phones, tablets, PCs, wearables, games consoles and more. At last, it feels as if Microsoft has both the technical capabilities and the understanding of user behaviour to make this happen at scale.
Here’s an extract of Gallo’s post:
Until now, mobile experiences have largely meant app and web experiences built for mobile devices – most often defined by the phone you carry with you.
But this is increasingly too narrow a definition for a growing number of customers who want theirexperiences to be mobile across ALL their devices and to use whatever device is most convenient or productive for the task at hand.
We see this preference for mobile experiences manifest itself most profoundly in what customers search for in the Store. Just a year ago, the experiences customers sought on Windows phones were different from tablet, which were different again from laptops and PCs, and different from the game console. This has changed – rapidly. Today, the top Store searches for each device type overlap significantly, both across and within app categories.
Building a platform that supports this new world ofmobile experiences requires not only supporting a number of screen sizes, but also providing flexibility in interaction models, whether it be touch, mouse & keyboard, a game controller or a pen. As a customer flows across their devices, they will often quickly transition from touch gestures (e.g. selecting a song or playlist, reading a news feed or document or viewing pictures from a trip) to keyboard & mouse for productivity (e.g. managing their playlist, writing a new blog post, or touching up that video or photo for sharing). To bridge the device gap (how many devices does a customerreally want to carry with them?), the industry is seeing the emerging trend of multi-modal devices, like the 2-in-1 Surface Pro 3. Within app experiences, an increasing number of apps handle this exact scenario – except developers are bridging this gap by building one or more mobile apps, a desktop application, and a website. We believe this can and should be easier.
With Windows 10, we are leading a new path forward for mobile experiences – breaking out of the limited box of just mobile devices and empowering customers take full advantage of all of the screens in their life. For Windows, these mobile experiences are powered by our one Windows core and the universal app platform.
The picture Gallo paints in his March 2015 blog post will, of course, be familiar to many in the MEX community. We’ve been exploring this notion of multi-touchpoint experiences unconstrained by individual devices for several years now (this blog contains an archive of all the MEX posts on this theme of multi-touchpoint UX).
Apple and Google have tended to be more forward thinking in bringing together the pieces needed to enable this vision in their ecosystems (I wrote an analysis of Apple’s Continuity initiative here). However, it would wrong to underestimate Microsoft’s ability to execute a rapid catch up. It has never lacked operational capabilities and it certainly doesn’t lack budget, but it has at times lacked an understanding of how user behaviour is changing.
What comes through in Gallo’s post is that Microsoft has started to acquire this understanding and refocus the disparate strands of its capability on a unified platform which will enable third parties to build and deploy experiences across touchpoints. None of the major digital ecosystems is fully formed yet in this regard – a strong offering from Microsoft, which makes it easier to deliver this vision on their platform – could represent their re-admission to a party they’ve largely missed.
Make no mistake – this is the future of digital experiences. While many remain focused on trying to ship smarter rectangles of glass and silicon, the next transformational changes to user experience will come from a different, multi-touchpoint approach. As Gallo hints in his blog post, providing an architecture to facilitate these experiences is complex and time consuming. A successful platform will need to handle diverse input methods, many forms of output – from touchscreens to voice and projection, and a huge variety of usage environments – from the living room to the great outdoors.