Last week Microsoft Office Labs released a series of videos at the Wharton Business Technology Conference, demonstrating their vision for computing in not a so distant future, 2019. After watching different versions of the videos, I have to say that I’m pleasantly, surprisingly impressed.
The part that impresses me isn’t its air screen interface like the one used in Minority Report. I have reservations about it because I think it’s something that looks neat in sci-fi movies, but not practical in real life applications. Any UI that extends the repetitive motor movement, IMHO, gets very tiring after a while. But that’s a topic for another day.
Microsoft isn’t known for its elegant UI as opposed to the company that’s run by the black turtle neck guy. I feel in recent years, Microsoft’s UI design and marketing have been stuck at this awkward place. Design wise, it tries too hard to mimic Apple’s Aqua; marketing wise, it’s somewhat defeatist and overplaying the underdog role.
That’s why I loved this video. It’s not pretentious, nor eager to prove, and its presentation is beautiful. What I’m curious about is: why 2019? Why not now? I’m not talking about the pseudo technology mocked up in this video. Although a lot of it was shown in MS’ Surface technology demo already. I’m referring to the graphical user interface.
The UI of Windows Vista, and even the soon to be released Windows 7 still live under Apple’s shadow. I wonder why with the resources Microsoft possesses, it still continues to mimic Apple’s tired interface. The beautiful flat, cell-shaded and clean interface presented the video can hold its own.
I also like the electronic newspaper concept as well. Granted, it’s been done in sci-fi movies such as the Red Planet and many others. It’s something I’ve always imagined Kindle should be, soft, organic and gentle instead of a cold piece of hardware.
Apple has a strong influence in UI design today, and rightly so. But I think instead of being inspired Apple’s designs, it’s more important to adopt its motto “Think Different.” Apple did not invent glossy buttons and reflections. It adapted many visual elements established by Kai Krause, but made the user interface far more friendly and intuitive. Hardware wise, Jonathan Ives was inspired by Dieter Rams’ designs from over five decades ago. This is why Apple succeeds – it’s excellent at taking something that’s good and making it better, into their own branding.
Microsoft definitely has stepped up when it comes to UI in recent years. The XBOX Live online experience is beautifully implemented. The visuals shown in the Office Lab videos in my opinion, should be implemented today, not ten years from now.