Microsoft opened up Windows 8 on its BUILD 2011 conference and discussed more about it’s new user interface direction called Metro. I watched this insightful video on Channel 9 on 8 traits of a great Metro style apps and pondered upon a thought - Will people embrace Metro fully amidst the abundance and prevalence of icons everywhere? (even on Windows machines) Will they leave Apple’s realistic looking apps (a Skeuomorph) in exchange for a sea of tiles arranged in grids and laid out in typography?
Ever since, computer user interfaces were inundated with basic computer user interfaces like icons and windows. Different iterations came from different operating systems but it still retained the basics with just a more polished design. When flood of smartphones and tablets hit the market the last decade, it posed a challenge to designers to take a step back and look again at how users use their - now, newly small form-factored computer. Of course it would be different from a PC. It has a smaller display. It did not use any pointing input device like a mouse. It was a different way of interacting on a scaled down computer.
When Apple released the iPhone, it introduced the notion of Apps as a singular hub for a specific task. You open a Mail app to read e-mails. Browser to browse the web. That’s it. While it did jumpstart the touchscreen race that we have right now, it was still essentially the same launch-a-program type you’d expect to do on a computer. Same with Android, which is just a more open, lenient and free version of iOS, if you ask me. That is until Microsoft decided to scrap its ailing Mobile OS and reinvent the user interface with Metro (which ironically came from the very poorly received, but very much respected, Zune brand)
The Metro UI pushes a unified experience between its content and applications. It now regards icons as a thing of the past and moves to LiveTiles – a sort of dynamic square-shaped icon that holds more information besides a graphic. Metro UI is technically similar to WebOS in terms of its feature of combining different services and integrating them into the core of the operating system. WebOS called it Synergy. Metro calls it Hubs.
Even Google has Metro-envy. A look at their recent redesign of some of their properties follow the less-chrome look of Metro. Just look at Google Wallet.
As a designer, Microsoft’s departure from the traditional look and feel of colorful chromey windows, static icons, and contained programs was a surprise since Microsoft was never really known to be the ‘designer’s-choice’ when it comes to good UI or even typography. (some of WP7 kerning’s are still making me cringe though) But I really admire them for coming up with something different and offering something new, and not just a rip-off of an already existing user interface. There are a number of ways Metro could grow and look beyond what we see right now.
So this push on “immersive” experiences and the use of clean typography and subtle grid layout is for me a very bold move and a risky on at the same time. Will the public embrace this change? Looking at sales of Windows Phones and the Zune, It seems that it will be an uphill climb for Microsoft to sell the idea to the common user but it looks like the folks at Redmond is in this for the long haul.
Metro is made for the digital age so it is ready for the digital age. No chrome, no fuss, no eye-candy. Content is the design. The question is, is the public ready for Metro?