The verdict was determined long ago: People don’t like Windows 8. The operating system released in 2012 was Microsoft’s first attempt to tie together its PC, mobile, and tablet interfaces. The result was a one-of-its-kind tile interface that was consistent across devices and consistently reviled. The learning curve was too steep, and Microsoft has spent the last couple years tweaking Windows 8 to make it more like its predecessors.
On Wednesday, Microsoft will unveil the consumer features of Windows 10, the company’s second take at an operating system that will seamlessly integrate the user experience across devices. This time around, says Directions on Microsoft Analyst Wes Miller, we’ll see that Microsoft hasn’t been deaf to the Windows 8 feedback.
“We’re looking at a company that’s willing to be more adaptive toward what customers are looking for, an OS that’s more adaptive toward user scenarios, and apps that will be able to go across the breadth of the Microsoft ecosystem,” he says.” They’re trying to make sure Windows fits the needs of the end consumer.”
The Windows 10 event should be more comprehensive than the soft unveiling of the OS in September. Here’s what Miller and colleague Rob Sanfilippo say we should expect from Microsoft tomorrow, and what the company will keep close to the chest:
Microsoft learned through Windows 8 that an OS interface can’t be consistent across devices. PCs, tablets, and phones are different sizes and are used in different ways, and Microsoft will try to tailor Windows 10 for each device.
The best example of this is Continuum, a feature in the tablet OS that allows the device to switch from an interface that resembles a standard PC desktop to a more touch-oriented mobile interface. Demos have shown this feature in the Surface Pro 3, giving the user the option to switch interfaces when the Surface is connected or disconnected from its keyboard base.
“Windows 8 confused a lot of customers more than it helped them,” Sanfilippo says. “Windows 10 can be the remedy where you run this thing and it completely makes sense with the device you’re using … rather than being jarred by a UI that comes up at the wrong time.”
Xbox and gaming
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has said he’s committed to Xbox, but many have called for Microsoft to spin off the division. Xbox and gaming, though, represent an avenue for Microsoft to connect with consumers. “Windows traditionally has been No. 1 for businesses. People think about Windows, they think about using Office and those types of applications they use at work,” Sanfilippo says. “This has hurt Windows in the consumer space, because Apple and iOS present much more of an entertaining personal experience.”
Gaming is one way to soften Windows’ consumer appeal. Windows 10 features could bleed over to Xbox, and it’s expected Windows 10 will be a more gamer-friendly OS than Windows 8 was. Reports have suggested Microsoft might show off “Project B”, a gaming helmet, on Wednesday.
Furthermore, if gaming continues to shift away from consoles and onto phones and tablets, Windows must be able to function as Xbox’s successor.
Wednesday’s event will focus on software, but Microsoft could use the occasion to tout some of its new phones and possibly a new Surface tablet.
“They’ve kind of dropped the ball on Windows phone in the last year … and the Surface Pro 3 has had a decent bit of success, and I think that’s something they could build on, but I don’t know if that fits their strategy to keep building hardware.”
Under Steve Ballmer’s direction, Microsoft had an increased emphasis on hardware and purchased Nokia’s devices business. But Nadella’s emphasis has been positioning Microsoft as a cloud- and platform-based company, so the company’s future approach to hardware is unclear at this point.
Timing and price
Microsoft will show off Windows 10’s features on Wednesday, but consumers will be wondering when they can get it and how much it might cost. Miller doesn’t expect Microsoft to nail down specifics on either tomorrow.
The expected release date for Windows 10 is sometime in the third quarter of 2015, and there have been talks of making Windows a subscription-based OS, which would allow constant updates and jive with Nadella’s cloud-first focus. But Miller thinks that’s unlikely.
“I’d be really surprised to see a subscription model when they do announce it for consumers,” Miller says. “Consumers have proven resistant to pay for Windows, and it’s going up against competitors who are free or at least free with hardware.”