The Windows 8 User Interface. I’m a tablet. No, I’m a phone. No, I’m a computer.

May 23, 2013 § 1 Comment

I recently spent some quality time with a couple of Windows 8 devices and I came away with mixed feelings. As far as a computing device, it’s great to finally have something light and mobile that will run the full compliment of software that we have in school. But I felt like the UI was severely lacking in spots.

Part of blame for this lays with the manufacturers not understanding the constraints of the devices that they’re producing. A larger part, though, lays directly with Microsoft. I’ll explain:

The Dell Latitude 10, to me, was a far superior user experience to the XPS 12 in several aspects, weight being the biggest factor. But forget about weight for a moment, because this post is about the user interface and user experience (UI and UX, respectively).

You would think that the XPS 12 would have a better UX simply because of the larger screen size, but it also has a larger screen resolution (1920 X 1080) compared to the Latitude (1366 x 768). But more pixels is better, right? Full HD is better, isn’t it? Only for watching movies, or working on 19″ monitors.

Look, full HD is great for a desktop computer, but Windows hasn’t decided yet if it wants to be a mobile operating system, or a desktop one. Until Microsoft decides to either go full on touch UI, or redesign the desktop interface with icons you can actually hit when you touch the screen, full HD is the absolute worst to work with on a touch device. Because the Latitude uses the minimum resolution for Windows 8, the icons on the screen in desktop mode are significantly larger and easier to touch with your finger.

In addition to all of that, a 12″ tablet is just too big. I really think the 10-11″ range in the sweet spot for these devices. You go much smaller and even the minimum screen resolution is too small. Bigger than 11, and it’s just not easy to hold with one hand. Factor in the weight of the XPS, and it’s just an all around non-starter as a tablet.

Even using the XPS as a laptop is hard because everything on the screen just looks so small. Maybe part of that is my old eyes and my refusal to wear my glasses all the time, but for my money, if I’m going from the default Windows 8 tiles to the desktop, I shouldn’t have to squint to see the latter, nor should I have to squint to see the text on the tiles.

The Windows 8 Tiles UI is really cool, but even there, Microsoft failed to get it 100% right. You would they would want to spend the time to get everything right before releasing it, but to me, it felt like they’d taken several different teams of people, had each one come up with different parts of the UI and then lumped them all together and said “here’s Windows 8” without really checking for consistency among the different moving parts. It felt a lot like my experience with Live@Edu.

Case and point. In the Microsoft Store, where you go to browse/purchase/download apps, there is a little back arrow button in the upper left corner. But guess what happens when you tap it to go back to the previous menu? Nothing. You have to swipe from the top to get a menu where you’ll get a “home” button that actually does work.

And while we’re talking about the UI and swiping, can we please come up with consistent gestures amongst different mobile OSss? Pretty please? Switching between using iOS, Android, and Windows 8 is very frustrating. Trying to remember how to do things like deleting an icon or shortcut in all the different systems (multiplied by finding hidden menus, creating shortcuts, and everything else) takes more of my time than actually using the device. On desktop OSss, a lot of these things work the same – drag and drop in the trash (or hit the delete button), right-clicking (or ctrl-clicking for single button mice) brings up a context menu where you can cut, copy, paste, delete, rename, etc. Keyboard shortcuts work the same no matter what OS you’re using, so why can’t these people bring some consistency to their mobile OSes, too?

On to more inconsistencies. In Windows 8, if you use Internet Explorer from the tiles menu, it has a very nice touch interface. If you launch it from the desktop, you get a desktop version, and guess what? That tab you had open in the touch version doesn’t transfer over. Neither do your bookmarks. Or history. Or anything else. They are completely separate applications. Seriously.

Other browsers work the same no matter where you launch them from, but they don’t benefit from the ability to pinch to zoom like IE does.

Probably my biggest complaint about Windows 8 is finding what in the world I have open. There is no easy way to pull up everything you have open and kill off the stuff you don’t want. The snap feature where you can pull up all the open apps on the left side is buggy at best, and often times results in just swiping you to the previous app you had open. Being able to see at a glance what’s open and running and giving me the option to kill those apps is something Apple and Google figured out over a year ago. Come on, Microsoft. Start playing catch up.

I really, really wanted to like both of these devices. I use a Windows 8 desktop as my media center, and once I figured out how to use it as a regular desktop machine, we got along just fine, but Microsoft really needs to decide how they want to proceed with this. Apple hasn’t tried to fit their mobile OS over top of their desktop OS, but that’s exactly what Microsoft has tried to do, and it’s not working that well.

I hope they make some much needed improvements with the next release.

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