You needed a spine, Microsoft

So apparently MS is giving up on mobile. Interestingly, I’m still using a Windows Phone but I also have a gig where I help people with their devices, all of them being Android and iOS.

It’s not pretty. I realized that people don’t care about their devices. They mostly buy photo specs. They buy an expensive phone for the status and even that is not really a thing anymore. The UI, the features, the battery life? They don’t care. They are absolutely overwhelmed by choice –there are multiple ways to do a lot of things- and don’t bother, they hand their phones over to someone who will do it for them. This is not generational. Young folks, older folks behave the same. “I can’t connect to the wifi, please do it for me”.

People get confused with their multiple screens, multiple folders and icons that disappear into the homescreen background. I see them spend most of their time navigating to avoid things instead of navigating to reach thing. That’s not good UI design, it means that there are too many things going on. iOS is a little cleaner and concise, but not by much. Windows Phone tile system is better, to this day.

The hardware made by Nokia, was and is better. I’ve had four Windows Phones, one made by Samsung and three others by Nokia. they all work like they did on the first day. One of the cheap Nokia got abused to no end, falling, exploding on the ground (cover, battery out), it has not a single scratch. Not one. I’m still using the stock charger with the stock USB cable. The cable is almost dead after years of absurd abuse –nothing destroys phone cables like working in TV- but it still works. I saw iPhones shatter in the most ridiculous ways. I witnessed people buying an iPhone cable a week.

Windows Phones were disregarded because they were too good. Just on hardware dying, Apple and Google sold three to four times more items. Microsoft and Nokia with their phones strong as shit couldn’t stand a chance. Don’t forget how the business works: carriers are at the top. They need to sell data plans. they subsidize phones that die left and right, you upgrade phone/plan every time. They’re happy. Throw in phones that don’t need anything and carriers end up doing support for free, not selling anything. They’re not happy.

Developers? Yeah, they make no sense financially, as usual. They were scared that MS would have a monopoly with a store, they made it a reality with Apple so, whatever they say. Google did everything they could to not help MS in any way (that YouTube bullshit). Microsoft fucked up hard there though: their first approach –polish, few features, security first- was good but then instead of acting like a group of seasoned folks who know what they’re talking about because they have been making operating systems for a long time, even on mobile, the race intensified and they started to play catch up while being completely weird on the backend side (showing developers that they didn’t know what they were doing). They decided to re-organize the company at the worst time ever.

Anyway my point is: when you design something, you have to make a stance. You can’t be “I think it’s pretty cool” you need to be “the rest is not good. We tried that. We have a better idea. We have huge ass experience that none of y’all have. Hear us out.” Look at notifications, MS was right from the start. Don’t allow them, it’s a FOMO-inducing design and it drains battery life like a motherfucker. In 2017 I see articles and comments where people share their “tricks” to avoid notifications like uninstalling apps etc. I mean. Really?

But Microsoft is a company that was build by and on dads, if I may. Dads are not asshole designers, dads follow. Dads don’t create trends, they buy them for their daughters.

The biggest example of this paradox is the original Surface with Windows 8. Pretty fantastic V1 product. five years later, most manufacturers have a Surface-like computer and the clean full-screen square, rectangle interfaces and buttons are everywhere from Snap to Roku. The dads company had figured shit out before everyone else. Give credit where credit is due.

They just didn’t know how to position themselves with so much innovation. They had that terrible dancing commercial running on TV and that’s it. They should have gone full Steve Jobs and declare the desktop dead and move on from there. But you know, dads. Dads don’t brag and even less scathe. And people are not actively sustaining competition or avoiding the creation of silos. They jump right in and regret later.

Almost ten years with a smartphone. What do I do most with it? Text messages, like it’s 2009 on my Blackberry. I check emails but like a lot of people I don’t reply from my phone because usually I’m on the go and don’t have time for that. I barely use maps and GPS now that I know LA pretty well. I take pictures and don’t even upload them in full size because it takes too long. My mom complained the other day because sending pictures was slow. 3K by 2K pixels is a lot of data for a mildly interesting vacation landscape. I tweet or read tweets but that doesn’t require more technology than ten years ago though Twitter tries. FB shows me whatever it wants so I completely stopped using it on my phone.

The mobile market is crazy hard and expensive so it makes sense to stay away from it when you’re not #1 or #2. In terms of UI design and flow, MS executives should have shown some spine, iterated on design and told journalists, “you’re understanding it wrong” while wearing turtlenecks, smiling.

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