Windows 8 is all about touch. It’s a noted departure from past versions of Windows, all of which featured the all-too-familiar Start button, an interface dominated by multiple application windows against a static background, and a simple point-and-click interaction scheme. That’s what Windows used to be. Now it’s a multi-colored grid filled with Live Tiles, Charms, and a tap-and-swipe interface better suited to touchscreens than Windows computers’ notoriously horrid trackpads.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t know what Live Tiles or Charms are. I doubt most people do. The features are emblematic of Windows 8’s wildly different interface and interaction design, which you’ll either love and embrace or hate and ignore. And you wouldn’t be alone in the latter camp — anywhere between 44.38 and 60.78 percent of Windows 8 users (on tablets and desktops, respectively) ignore the new interface and use the “traditional” option, according to a new report from Soluto.
It isn’t surprising that desktop users aren’t fond of Windows 8’s new interface, but it is surprising to see that people who have touchscreen-equipped devices aren’t using it either. These are the devices Microsoft was targeting, the reason why the company developed the Surface tablets and why manufacturers have started to build touchscreens into laptops and desktops as well. You can’t visit a Best Buy or watch a product announcement without seeing some kind of hybrid device with a touchscreen — but has it all been for nothing?
Probably not. The problem isn’t that Windows 8 focuses on touch; the problem is that Microsoft has spent more time refining the point-and-click interface than most large technology companies — Facebook, Amazon, Google — have been in existence, and Windows 8 is its first attempt to throw those decades of work away and begin anew. And, by doing so, Microsoft turned Windows 8 into a bundle of nearly-undiscoverable features and inscrutable gestures that most consumers probably won’t understand.
Soluto notes in its report that the most-used Windows 8 app in its study, which examined more than 10,000 Windows 8 devices and more than 300,000 app launches, is Yahoo Mail. Seriously. Yahoo Mail is the thing that you sign up for when you’re 13 and just starting to learn about the wonderful world of the Web. It’s also among the most-used applications on a brand-new operating system, possibly because it’s so damned hard to navigate Windows 8 and connect a Yahoo Mail account to the default email application.
The process of adding a Yahoo Mail account to Windows 8 is described as “crossing the desert” in Soluto’s report. “To make a long story short, an average chap opening Microsoft’s Mail app will have no idea how to add his Yahoo! mail,” it continues. Even if you use a touchscreen, which is what Microsoft seems to expect you to do if you’re going to use Windows 8, the process of adding a single email account is a lesson in frustration. And if you can’t figure out how to do that within the new Windows interface, why would you stick around and try to figure out how to do anything else?
“Our vision for Windows 8 was to create a modern, fast and fluid user experience that defines the platform for the next decade of computing. One which upends the way conventional people think about tablets and laptops and the role of the devices they carry,” Microsoft’s product manager for Windows’ user experience team Jensen Harris wrote in a blog post explaining how Windows has evolved over the years. “We wanted to create an experience that works however you want to work, powering a new class of PCs that you are proud to own and love having in your life.”
That’s just what Microsoft has done with Windows 8. Relying so heavily on a touch-based interface has pushed manufacturers to include touchscreens in an increasing number of laptops and desktops, creating the hybrid devices that have dominated CES and store shelves since Windows 8’s introduction. It isn’t hard to imagine a future when every computer — except maybe those made by Apple — will be touchscreen-equipped, and having a touch-friendly operating system will be increasingly important.
Now Microsoft just needs to figure out how to make Windows 8 more consumer-friendly. Having a touchscreen-equipped computer is only as useful as the operating system it’s running, and if you can’t figure out how to make Windows (or any other product) work the way you expect it to, there’s nothing that a few Charms can do to convince you to stay. Microsoft was right to identify touch as the future of computing — now it just needs to make its tap-and-swipe interface as familiar as the old point-and-click.
[Disclosure: Soluto and PandoDaily are both backed by Index Partners' Saul Klein and CrunchFund.]
[Image courtesy Microsoft]