The potential problem with Windows 8 apps.

The last decade can be characterized as the decade of the web. Like it or loathe it, the web is an important part in the lives of everyone working in IT. To me, this is a good thing. The web has brought us many things to be happy about. I can't imagine doing my work without an unlimited connection to the net.

Businesses all over the globe seem to have picked up on this. If lots of people are using it, then there is probably great potential for money to be made. So a lot of people have invested in web related technology. Again, this is great. The speed with which the Internet in general has grown is actually kind of hard to understand. Only 20 years ago we had the first WWW pages. Most people didn't understand what email was in those days. Things like Gopher and IRC were used to distinguish oneself from the others. Digital camera's existed but we're incredibly expensive. Today everybody is carrying a mobile phone, taking snapshots and instantly uploads those to Facebook so everyone on the globe can see that enormous big ice-cream you're eating. Or something like that. I am exaggerating of course, there are many useful things on the net that truly enrich our lives.

But… (You saw that one coming, didn't you?) Not all is good. Because of the potentially huge amounts of money that can be made on the net, most IT investments go into the web. Money attracts money. And money attracts talent. Which is great but talent is a scarce resource. So all talent that is being applied to web technologies isn't available for use on non-tech areas. Which is a shame.

You know the old saying: when all you have is a hammer all problems look like a nail. Well, this is true in IT as well. Since everybody is focused on or trained in web technology every problem out there gets a web solution. Can I offer an alternative?

It's called client computing.

Ok, I am being sarcastic here. But I do think I have a point. Not everything needs to be 'in the cloud'. Not all applications need to be written in JavaScript so it's usable on an iPad. You'd be amazed how many companies still write good old fashioned Client Server applications. And that's a good thing! However, there's a small problem in that area. Since CS computing or even writing stand alone Line Of Business applications isn't considered 'sexy' anymore, the people are doing this are usually the people who have been doing this for a long time. The new guy on the IT team wants to do web stuff. And this leads to an interesting problem we haven't seen before. Let me illustrate.

I was recently visiting a company. We were talking about all the systems they were building. Most of the money they made was by selling devices. As a service, they also wrote software to handle some of the devices. These applications were client / server of some sorts: they got their data from external machines and show them to the user. We were going through these systems and then, after lunch, the IT director insisted on showing me their brand new website. And I have to say: the website look stunning. It was modern, sleek, nice and very usable. And it was very much unlike the applications that they made in that regard. It turned out they hired some web developers and a UX company to do the styling and usability experience of their website. And they spend tens of thousands euros on that. The core business, thus the applications they sell, however were designed by the same guys who think about using List<DataStructure> kind of things all day long. As a result the applications were beyond unusable: they were horrible. Nobody saw this as a problem since they knew how to work with the systems. They have been building them like this for years and they knew exactly what they should do.

This to me is kind of strange. Let's be honest here: developers aren't good at designing and they know little about a good interaction model. Somehow most developers get offended when you tell them this but they do agree when you tell them UX designers know nothing about development. Still, disagreeing doesn't mean it isn't true. Especially 'old school' developers, coming from the Client Server era, don't seem to grasp the basic ideas behind good design and usability. It was never an issue and to be honest: they are getting a bit too old to change now. The people who do know about this aren't found in this area. They go to the sexy world of web apps.

With the introduction of apps for devices like the iPad, iPhone, Android Phones and tablets and Windows Phone we see that people do get the idea behind good (UX) design. Especially people coming from the Apple environment spend a lot of time making sure the apps look good and are relatively easy to use.

But in October this year the first Windows 8 devices will be introduced. The great thing about Windows 8 devices is that every Client Server developer who has been working with VB.Net or C# will be able to create apps for the Store. So we will have an enormous amount of potential new developers for this platform. However, these are the people who aren't capable of designing these apps: they have the wrong history and/or background (I know: I am generalizing here). So I expect to see a lot of great ideas worked out pretty badly, resulting in terrible looking or very unusable apps in the store.

And that worries me. Windows 8 is going to be great. The platform is by far the best I have seen. The devices so far look stunning. The whole ecosystem behind Windows 8 is fantastic. The population of developers is amazingly big so the potential for great apps is enormous. But we need people who understand the interaction between man and machine. We need UX designers for this platform. And I am afraid they aren't here yet.

Who will step up to fix this problem?





Print | posted @ Tuesday, August 21, 2012 10:40 AM

Comments on this entry:

Gravatar # re: The potential problem with Windows 8 apps.
by Relic at 8/21/2012 11:38 AM

You have to admit, Microsoft have done a lot of UI work in the Metro space. If you look at their dev samples proper design is explained. So we can narrow it down to lazy developers who will stuff them up. As for the desktop it's anything goes. At least it's not a walled garden...
Gravatar # re: The potential problem with Windows 8 apps.
by Leon Zandman at 8/21/2012 11:55 AM

The exact same problem as we've been facing with Windows Phone. There are still shockingly few well designed apps, I think. However, Windows 8 will have a significant larger user/install base from the start, so a much larger potential market to sell your apps to. This should attract the better app developers. Of course Microsoft also has to deliver apps that give clear examples of how it should be done. Just like Apple did with their own apps (like the iWorks suite and the iOS built-in apps).
Gravatar # re: The potential problem with Windows 8 apps.
by Bert Loedeman at 8/21/2012 12:09 PM

You just explained my feeling about Windows 8 (and Windows Phone) app development. Myself being a hardcore developer, I simply am not that great designer. Apps I develop without aid of a great designer just function great, but don't look great. It would be fantastic if the Windows platform should be embraced by the designers world as well.
Gravatar # re: The potential problem with Windows 8 apps.
by Venkatesh R at 8/22/2012 3:33 PM

Windows 8 Metro Platform is just a startup. Soon we'll have developers who will develop apps with Specified UX Guidelines. To add any apps in Windows App store, you need to get approved by Apps Admin team who'll check UX guidelines. As I said it's Evolving. Will get better by some time.
Gravatar # re: The potential problem with Windows 8 apps.
by colesraymond at 8/23/2012 6:42 AM

Microsoft will include a heat map in the Windows 8 task manager in a bid to highlight potential problem applications
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