Throughout the past 18 months Microsoft has been carving out a new niche in user experience with its Metro interface. It’s used by Windows Phone 7 and will be the default UI setting in the upcoming Windows 8 release, but it hasn’t started to snowball just yet.
Last month Metia’s Rich Blackwell wrote up a post that took a look at the exact reason behind this slow uptake. His explanation: Metro is simply too different for mass-adoption. Microsoft has no trouble throwing its weight around in the PC software market, but Blackwell’s reasoning is that the image its own products helped to cement is what’s slowing Metro down from changing all that.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t a big opportunity for Metro, especially as more Microsoft products are being unified around cloud services, and of course the Metro U. The Xbox game console now leverages the UI and is already an incredible popular product. At the same time, WP7 is gaining traction and may even catch up with iOS in a few years’ time, according to a fresh IDC report. Even LinkedIn uses it.
A great deal also depends on the ecosystem. After all, Metro isn’t all about tiles. Third party developers can increase the system’s value a great deal, especially using tools such as Telerik’s newly unveiled RadControls. The company’s latest Windows 8 developer toolset is being demoed at TechEd this week, and is targeting not only PC devs but also mobile app makers – tablets, after all, are a big focus of the upcoming OS. The RadControls suite is touted as a full-featured cross device UX environment.
“We’re delighted to be the first again to equip developers with a powerful toolset that will help them to be super productive with Metro. Telerik’s RadControls for Metro provides an invaluable jumpstart and path for enterprise-focused developers to fully explore all the options that the Windows 8 platform can offer,” stated Chris Sells, Vice President of Telerik’s Developer Tools division.”
Microsoft’s out to reclaim the mobile market
As iOS and Android have settled into their respective market positions, Windows Phone has held steady for the past two years. And while BlackBerry loses ground, Microsoft hopes to take the reins on its destiny and dig some deeper inroads into the mobile market. Their team up with Nokia was a clear sign of Microsoft’s intentions, and introduced yet another product line up featuring the Metro UI. And even with this week’s news of the upcoming SmartGlass application, it’s even clearer that Microsoft intends to create a unified experience for consumers across the board.
But let’s not forget about the enterprise. They’ve taken to mobile as readily as anyone, driven by an unstoppable consumer trend that’s spilling into the workplace. One strength Microsoft has for enterprise-ready mobile is an established presence in most offices around the world, making Windows-based tablets that much easier to integrate for the IT departments. For Telerik, that means focusing on the individual features of cross-platform development, and not categorizing things into consumer vs. enterprise boxes.
“We’re thinking about the developer experience holistically across enterprise and consumer spaces,” Sells says. ”What’s the superset of what developers need? Because of the merging of enterprise and consumer spaces, it’s hard to tell the difference between something [a company] would shoot off to customers and what they want their employees to use. They both need to be easy and fast.”
“Microsoft has built a nice space for developers and HTML, making it a first-class citizen for installing apps on the platform. So we’re building tools in the data visualization space–charts, gauges and all kinds of graphs. It’s meant to be powerful in the same way our Silverlight tools are. On the HTML side, we’re bringing in our expertise for building HTML5 components and giving it to our customers.”
What’s driving the renewed interest in Windows Phone?
There’s definitely a notable uptick in interest for Windows Phone, and Telerik’s been surprised on the increased uptake, notes Sells. But where’s that push coming from? Microsoft’s adamant attention to a unified Windows 8 launch later this year? Consumer interest in the Nokia Lumia? Developer anticipation for another mobile platform to shake up the game? It’s likely a combination of all of the above.
While Microsoft’s shifted strategy somewhat in their approach to the developer community, Telerik is eyeing the overall space. This is the “same space where developers are still deciding what they want to do,” Sells explains. ”HTML5 is much more capable than HTML, especially for touch screens. We’ve been pushing hard on that. And Telerik, traditionally a Microsoft-only shop, is pushing into the bigger space. But one of the main themes for this current release is mobile and Metro U support across all of our components. It’s a heterogeneous world.”