Google vs. Microsoft

Building Windows 8 is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs to follow.

I probably won’t agree with all of UI choices being made with Windows 8, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to gripe about when it finally comes out. But the one thing you get from Windows 8 blog is that Microsoft spends a lot of time thinking about their UI choices and trying to make their users happy. For example, the team uses a good chunk of this blog post to explain concepts like Fitts’ Law and minimizing the amount of time to launch an app. Arguably, some of the “big picture” stuff gets lost with this attention to very specific metrics. But you get the sense that a lot of care is going into Microsoft’s Windows 8 UI.

Contrast this to Google’s new UI changes.

One of the most atrocious implementations of the Google’s new gray, black, and red theme is the new Google Reader. I’ll defer to criticism from folks more familiar with the product. But suffice to say, the new Google Reader redesign raises the question of whether anyone on the team actually put the product in front of real people.

I remember stories about how how Google conducted massive amounts of AB testing on even tiny changes to the interface. Engineers would analyze each extra link on or use of a different shade of blue. Guess that’s not being applied across the board.

I get the impression that Google’s UI team really wants to be like Apple. Like there’s some creative overlord that just imposes “freshness” and “good taste” across each of Google’s products in a consistent manner. Well, I don’t know how Apple works. But whatever it does, Google’s doing a piss poor job at imitating it.

Faux Physical Surfaces Suck


Here’s a screenshot of the iPad calendar, courtesy of GigaOM.

It’s a small nitpicky thing of mine, but Apple’s UI decisions here annoy the heck out of me. Note how they’re using the brown to give off the appearance of an actual calendar, something physical that people can grab and manipulate.

Hogwash I say.

First, it’s half-assed. Apple prides itself on delivering a complete UI experience, but seriously, this UI here?  It clashes with the rest of the iPad UI, unless real calendars have black floaty selection boxes hovering over them. Or have buttons and search boxes built into them. It looks like they thought of a more traditional computer UI first, with all the buttons and what not, and then slapped on this layer of velvety brown physicalness. That’s half-assed.

Second, it’s pointless. The velvety brown look isn’t more intuitive. It’s the exact same UI you would use on a computer, except it looks more physical. I guess that invites me to touch it, but really, do I really need a cue to touch the iPad?

Third, it’s ugly. Seriously, Apple has this steel, chrome, elegant look down. iPads are supposed to be shiny. The last thing it needs is brown.


Windows Phone 7 Series Apps

Microsoft just announced the Windows Phone 7 Series. So yeah, they still need to work on naming, but folks seem legitimately excited about this.

Quick thoughts on the app experience: It looks as if it’s going to be way different than the iPhone. The iPhone treats applications as isolated silos. The home-screen is a nice metaphor for this — little self-contained boxes lined up in a grid. With the 7 Series, Microsoft seems to have put an awful lot of time into the home-screen and other “first impression” user experiences. My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that Microsoft’s goal is to treat apps less as isolated tidbits and things that modify the core user experience. That is, they’re going to be focusing heavily on things like unified inboxes, apps that modify the home-screen, etc.

This line of thought isn’t new. It’s basically what Palm was arguing with Synergy, but more relevantly, it’s what Microsoft used to sell the Xbox 360. 360 games are not just isolated worlds, but things that are integrated deeply with the Xbox 360 “OS”. All 360 games share a uniform gamer profile and Achievement system. They share the same friends list and use the same messaging system. “Virtual goods” are all purchased through the same Xbox Live Marketplace. There’s a level of vertical integration here that would make Apple jealous.

And now, hopefully, they’re bringing that to the phone. There are obviously a lot of risks here. People don’t necessarily think of apps that way post- (and maybe pre-) iPhone. Compared to a grid of apps, a more integrated UI also looks like it could get very confusing, very quickly (I personally find the 360’s dashboard to be somewhat unintuitive at times, even if it is pretty). It could also get messy (see MySpace).

Still, there is hope, and for once, people seem to be rooting for Microsoft.

I Still Don't Get the iPad

So the iPad’s been unveiled. It’s basically a giant iPhone. I don’t get it. If I already have an iPhone and a laptop, why do I need an iPad?

On one hand, it’s much more limited than a computer. You can’t use Flash or multitask. The latter is a real bummer for me. In class, I like being able to quickly hop from taking notes on a word-processor to a PDF of the reading we’re discussing to asking a classmate on chat what I missed while I was busy looking up something on Wikipedia. I see a lot of netbooks in class these days — probably because students don’t want to carry a full-size laptop around to take notes — and a tablet might be perfect for them, but the inability to multitask is a real deal breaker.

On the other hand, it’s much too big for me to stick in my pocket. The nice thing about the iPhone is that I can quickly whip it out to check restaurant reviews on Yelp, update my Facebook status, or locate something on Google Maps — all while walking down the street with a cup of coffee in my hand. I can’t do that as conveniently with an iPad.

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A Few of My Favorite Things (For Windows)

I used to have an Apple PowerBook but switched back full-time to a PC over a year ago. My reasoning at the time was basically a preference for some of the PC hardware choices out there (namely, a laptop that wouldn’t burn my lap) plus an understanding I could dual-boot / virtualize Linux whenever I couldn’t stand Windows.

I use Windows 7 full-time now, but this post is not about Mac vs. Windows vs. Linux though (even though I, and every other computer user on the planet, have plenty to say about that).1

Below the fold, a list of some of my five favorite tools on Windows. Most of these are things I downloaded to replicate functionality I missed from OS X or Linux.

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