The good, the bad and the Metro interface (it won’t last)

  I’ve recently upgraded my operating system, making a quantum leap from good old reliable Windows XP to the bright, shiny new Windows 8. And with new software comes new hardware, as my old 32-bit desktop PC hits the scrap heap and a glitzy new laptop graces the nerve centre that is Copy Towers. Being an ex-Microsoftie, I know just how excited the folks in Redmond get over a new software release. They develop a sort of high-tech tunnel vision, and a fierce protectiveness over their new baby (isn’t she pretty?). But often, in the euphoria of the new arrival, they forget the millions of people out there who don’t get nearly so excited about change. And what a change. A new PC, a new operating system. Reinstalling apps, discovering which ones don’t work with this new 64-bit operating system (or do, but that have developed quirky behaviour). Then there’s the interface. Microsoft, in its wisdom, has decided that we all have to use the Metro interface – those big, bold, brash tiles that sit between you and the desktop. Already propeller-heads worldwide are trying to break the system to allow people to log on straight to the desktop. There are even a couple of workarounds that let you put the late-lamented Start button back where it belongs. Change is the only constant, as the old saying goes (unless it’s that old cliché, which never seems to change). It’s inevitable. It’s progress. There’s no standing in the way of it. And yet and yet. I’ve written before about how resistant people are to change. How they really don’t look forward to using enhancements and new features nearly as much as you do to launching them. But as with everything, it all comes down not to what you do, but how you do it. Handled well, a new launch can boost your image, revive sales and push you into the vanguard of your industry. So what marketing lessons can we take away from the hoopla of the Windows 8 launch?
  • Advertising works. Windows 8 is everywhere at the moment, from the wall-to-wall Nokia Lumia adverts topping and tailing TV programmes in the UK (and probably everywhere else) to the banner ads online to the real banners bedecking PC stores up and down the land. It creates a wrap-around sense of occasion, and makes people feel they want to be part of something new and big.
  • You can’t stand still. Change is inevitable if you want to fight off the competition. Resting on your laurels isn’t an option when everybody else is moving forward.
  • Framing is everything. It’s good if you say it’s good. It makes sense if you put it in context. It’s accepted if you give some background – and a little bit of vision, letting people know why you’re doing what you’re doing. If people don’t know what they’re seeing, then tell them. If they don’t understand the full implications, then explain them. It’s a bit like modern art: if you don’t know what you’re looking at (and let’s face it – most times, you don’t) then the story becomes vitally important.
  • It’s a two-way street. You think you know what your users and customers want. You try your best to give them what you think they’ll need. But without them on your side, you’re in trouble. So don’t stay on transmit: set your systems to receive as well, and you’ll get some invaluable feedback, to make your offering even better.
  • You will get things wrong. Not might, will. Everybody does. And there are two valuable lessons to be learned from this. First, you shouldn’t wait until everything is 100% right before you launch, because it never will be. And second, you need to fix the things that are wrong, and quickly. It shows people that you’re receptive to feedback, value their opinion, and able to react quickly.
As for getting things wrong in Windows 8, well my guess is that the Metro interface will be the first thing to go – at least on the desktop. Big buttons make sense on a smartphone, and on a tablet. And on a touch-screen laptop, though I can’t really see the point of such a gizmo (just think of the RSI class-action lawsuits). But on a corporate, small business, or home desktop, Metro doesn’t make sense. It just doesn’t. Not that anybody ever listens to me. More’s the pity.