Dissection of Windows 8 Metro UI – 8 features
So, Windows 8 Consumer Preview is out. We already know that Windows 8 plays nicely with touchscreens, hardly surprising as it was designed from the day 1 to be touchscreen driven, but how about the good ol’ mouse & keyboard?
As it’s Windows 8, 8 features seems appropriate. So, without further ado – Dissection of Windows 8 Metro UI.
1. Metro UI
One of my personal favorites is how the applications become much more than just the traditional “islands” (*cough-iOS-cough*). In Windows 8 they become part of the OS itself. Install say, Twitter client and it integrates itself at the OS level as a way of sharing things, much like in Android. Or how the People application (or “hub?”) becomes part of every application that does something with your contacts – Sync it with your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google accounts and BAM, you have all the information from those, syndicated into one pool of knowledge. Click the person in your instant messaging thread and you get instantly their information, latest tweets, email address and even mail address. Want to send him an email? Just click the email address and you’re set. It’s all really fluid, powerful and effortless, and most of all, not driven through “islands” of applications. Now, everything seems connected and speaks the same language, and that just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
The nasty thing about Windows 8 is, and there’s no way around it, the fact it inevitably will be the bastard son of the old and the new. The whole industry can’t just simply hop into Metro overnight, so in the foreseeable future there will be some mix’n’match going on, which probably will confuse users. However, Microsoft is already enforcing Metro as de facto Windows UX – The only way you can get your app to to the Windows Store is if you go Metro.
The main gestures are rather simple and get into your muscle memory quickly: Separate actions for each corner and a drag-down-from-top – either closing an application (drag all the way down) or snapping it for multitasking.
So far my main frustration with the W8 gestures is that the ones that send your cursor flying across the screen (corners, drag-down) aren’t really that fluent to do with touchpad. Specially as I like to keep the sensitivity and acceleration on lower settings. Luckily pretty much everything has keyboard shortcut.
Finally, Win+Tab has actual meaning, rather than just the “pretty alt-tab”! In it’s W8 form it will do the same multitasking as top-left corner of the screen – Show (and cycle through) screenshots of all your running applications.
The thing that is going to upset most of the hardcore people is of course the fact that you can’t really do proper multitasking, aka. have multiple applications open in the same screen in Metro. Well, you can have two, as it’ll let you dock an application to the side of your screen (much like with Aero Snap <3 in Vista/W7), which is handy for instant messaging and the likes. Use two screens, you say? Plug in another screen and it’ll default to desktop, while Metro will be shown on your main screen. Which leads us to Desktop. Powerusers shouldn’t have too much of an issue with W8 as it still packs the full desktop experience for legacy applications.
Of course, the final judgement for Metro can only be passed when my W8 PC clocks enough hours, but so far it seems rather good. Dare I say, better than the old one?
The bad news here is that much of your mental models for Windows multitasking are obsolete, which probably will confuse people at the beginning. Personally, I’d say – Out with the old, in with the new.
4. Lock screen
Personally, I’m in love with the new lock screen (although, lets face it, It’s not like the lock screens out there are hard to beat..). The ease of personalisation and the glanceable information, like calendar, mail, younameits.
However, there are few glitches. As I’m using Finnish keyboard, if I’m logging in after a boot the keyboard is in US layout, but if I have logged in already after the boot, the keyboard is Finnish. Which is fun when you try to type your password with special characters…
5. Start screen
Easily my favorite feature in W8 is the new Start screen – The simple, glanceable information about all your stuff is just pure win written all over it. Also, the way I can simply pin stuff (people, webpages, direct links to things within apps) to the start screen is a lifesaver. All this has a bit of same flair that I absolute love in WebOS – Everything is accessible with one and the same action, swipe. Or in this case, the Windows button. The process is the same, no matter where you are and where you are going to, which equals for effortless use. “I’m in Excel and want to check my favorite website. Smash start button. Click the pinned tile. Bam. You’re in squeemyfavsite.com.”
What I would like to see more of is: Just Type(tm) from WebOS. Want to update your Twitter? Hit start. Type “Tweeting from Windows 8”, click Tweet. Done.”. Though, I’d wager Palm/HP has patent or two covering it…
The big boogieman under the bed of Windows 8 Consumer Preview seems to be the consistency troll. At least in this incarnation. It almost seems like there is no real design guidelines for Metro apps…
In case of start screen it’s not too bad, but it’s still there: When you move your mouse to the edge of the screen, the view scrolls, or pivots automatically. Why is this bad? The problem here is that start screen is the only place where this interaction model works, even though the mental model is exactly the same in any metro app using pivots. And what’s the thing you end up interacting with, and thus learning from, the most? Yup. The start screen.
The only good thing about charms is that the settings, search and share buttons can now always be found from the same place. However, they are the first thing that makes me feel like the non-touchscreen interaction is simply an afterthough in W8 – “Aw poop! I just realized we need mouse and keyboard controls here as well…”. Which, was more or less confirmed in the MWC release event, where the lady from Microsoft was talking how they started designing W8 with a tablet PC mockup.
This is my actual grief no. 1 with W8. From the first moment, when you start using your brand-spanking-new W9 PC, it’s not really clear that they actually are context sensitive, meaning it’s more like they are system wide actions. The main source for this confusion is perhaps the existence of the start button in here, as it is not context sensitive, rather than system wide. Want more confusion? Alright. The search actually is system wide. Kinda. You can run your searches against any installed application that offers search functionality. Which, by itself is cool, but the context is a bit weird. Then we come to the share button, which is enabled even at the start screen, even though you can’t actually share anything. How about settings? When in start screen, go to charms, click settings – You get buttons that read “Settings” and “More PC settings”, which almost directly implies that even the first two “Settings” actions are for “PC settings”.
In any case, it’s overall bad user experience to mix and match stuff that look like they have the same context, but in real life behave completely different way.
Another thing that I’m not too fond of is the fact that the charms bar acts bit like W7 taskbar or OS X dock (when hidden ofc) in the sense that it slides out from the edge of the screen when mouse is close to the edge. The catch here is that it acts _almost_ the same, meaning that if you have mastered that age old mental model, you might find yourself throwing your mouse towards the edge of the screen, in anticipation of the charms bar to appear, in which case you’d be sorely disappointed. To access it you actually have to hit the top-right corner of the screen, instead of the edge, which by itself is nothing but good – Corners are easy targets to hit and the auto-hiding dock/taskbar is baaaaad UX. The problem here lies within the visual representation of the charms bar: It acts like it’s autohiding taskbar, kind of. Which supports the mental model of edge reveal. If it walks like a duck…
Lastly, now you have application actions in two different places, accessible via two different actions (charms and the commands bar). Which neatly brings us to the next item…
7. Command bar
Again. It’s nice to have one place to look for application commands, but that’s pretty much where it ends.
And this is actual grief no. 2. Lets start with consistency (arguably one of the most important parts in any UI). Every app seems to have things in different order, in different places and even the command bar itself can be either at the top or the bottom of the screen. What’s more confusing is that even though you have the settings gear icon in charms bar, apps like IE bring their on wrench icon to the bottom commands bar (IE has two commands bar, both, at the top and the bottom). Which, again hints to the lack of clear(ly thought?) design guidelines, as there are things like the “three dots” button used in WP7 and in W8 just for extra commands, which aren’t really used properly in W8. Also, some applications have command buttons in their main UI, while others have all their commands in the bar below. Design guidelines, anyone?
Personally, I’d rather see settings, share etc. grouped into the application commands bar. So that all the application commands/actions would always be in the same place. Which would even give us nice scalability depending on the screen size: Designer would group the commands in the order of importance, which would then be aligned to the left. On the right, there would be persistent share, search and settings buttons, while the command buttons would show all the buttons that would fit into the command bar, and hide rest of them behind “three dots” button.
Also, the same problem applies for the commands bar: It looks and acts much like auto-hiding taskbar, so you might find yourself hitting the bottom border of the screen (preferably with the mouse cursor) for the commands bar.
However, easily the worst part about commands bar is the way you invoke it: By right clicking. Which, again, by itself sounds just fine and dandy, but when you combine it with screen full of elements that have context menus themselves… You end up searching for place where you can invoke the commands bar. In some cases (Google Docs in IE), smashing the right-button twice seems to help, and in some it doesn’t.
8. Persistent PC settings
Think of these guys as the notification area on your W7 taskbar. Fast access to the important things in your PC: Networking, audio, brightness, notifications, power and language. Nice and neat, and now even accessible with chubby fingers alike.
Only thing that I miss in here is the functionality of Notifications. In the current incarnation, it only toggles the notifications on and off. What I would like to see is sort of notification list, for those cases when I miss a notification, or want to check it again.
As a extra treat, I had to throw in the Feedback feature in W8 Consumer Preview.
Of course the reason for feedback in this Windows 8 incarnation is that it’s actually just a preview (although it’s pretty much set to stone), which they use to get feedback from would-be consumers, but… When W8 really comes out, I would love to see the feedback button in every application. Hell, It should even be defined in the design guidelines; where and how it should be accessed, because this is a great tool for developers to get feedback from their applications by lowering the barrier. “I’m having a problem with this application.. Well, might as well tell them as it’s right there and it’s only few clicks.”.
However, again, the problem here is consistency. The feedback button changes it’s icon and location all the time from app to app, even between Microsoft’s apps! Sometimes it’s not even in the pop-up menu, rather than behind the settings menu.
All in all, Windows 8 with Metro feels fantastically fresh and fluid UI plagued by consistency problems and some touchscreen driven “features”. They are bit rough but not much of a dealbreaker, however they do crate slight not-completely-thought-through feel to it.. Although, I’m quite sure these are just the things that the polishing phase is for, in which W8 is about to enter.
In the end, I would definitely recommend the Metro UI – It’s fresh, fluid and fun! If you’re heavy poweruser it might not be for you (yet), however I would still suggest throwing the caution to the wind and trying it out, if only for few weeks.Posted by Mikko Tikkanen | 3 comments