Xbox One: From Hardcore to Family Friendly and Why Gamers Complain

Xbox One: From Hardcore to Family Friendly and Why Gamers Complain

New XBOX ONE

I call myself a gamer usually. Though I don’t always have the time to actually sit down and turn up my Xbox 360. I played games enough and are still in the community to understand what’s in gamer’s mind. I’ve been trying to put my fingers on the new Xbox One release and why gamers, especially hardcore gamers, hate it. I think I can relate.

Some say they don’t understand where gamer’s rage come from. After all pricing stays the same and the product become better. But pricing always stays around the same or even less for newer products, or no one will buy them unless something unique justify the price increase. That’s people’s expectation now. The thing people complaining, especially the more hardcore gamer bunch, is the direction Xbox One is going. It’s going from a dedicated hard-core gaming console (by dedicating I mean dedicate on hardware, OS, integration, feature sets, etc.) to a generic ‘a-little-bit-of-everything’ set-top-box. I think gamers felt a bit like getting ‘cheated’. You have to understand those hardcore gamers, they take it very very seriously. When you are playing COD and you’re about to die if not jumping off a platform to avoid the incoming bullets, that one second delay because of Netflix or other features will be the difference between living and dying for them.

Yes there are casual gamers, but they don’t really care about Xbox or Playstation or Wii, hell they are happy enough with a Galaxy or iPhone even. (Which is totally fine, I’m a casual gamer now myself and liking it.)

I think gamers are upset because Microsoft uses its influence and success on Xbox which is popped up by gamers to pursue its other agendas and leaving gamers behind (or marginalized at least). And as we know it, more often than not, Microsoft’s new agenda won’t be welcomed with great success for some time now… So this feels like a ‘omen’ to gamers.

Will the shift on Xbox One get them more sales because of the shift to broader audiences? Maybe. But at what cost? The exodus of most of their core gamers customers?

I really don’t know whether this is a good thing for them or not.

Apple Adopting Flat Design? Yes, Please !

 

apple logo 2

There’s report that Apple’s legendary design master Jonathan Ive is leading Apple’s iOS user interface toward another direction: ‘flat design’.

This is really long time coming!  It’s about time we get some fresh air on iOS UI. And Apple shouldn’t let Microsoft steal all the thunder with Metro UI. I just can’t wait to see Apple’s interpretation of flat design!

 

 

 

Kinect On Laptop?

The Verge today has a video showcasing Microsoft’s new progress in bringing Kinect to laptop/desktop as a new interaction model. 

This is … interesting, makes me feels like I’m playing my Xbox Kinect games. I can totally imagine using gestures to turn up volume or switch channel on my TV, but wait, aren’t we also going to use this on work and stuff? Which is not as fun as playing games on Kinect. Moving my arms around like this for hours just blows my mind, especially if I’ll have to stop my arm mid-air to do the needed accuracy adjustments… felt tired already. I think this will have the same ‘gorilla arm’ challenge as laptop with a touch screen

But wait, maybe there is a way out. Introducing … the ‘Hand Signs’ system!

hand signs

 

What do you think?

UICraft: Rethinking Touch Screen on Laptop

Recently Microsoft and Google all release their own laptop with a touch screen. People start to speculate that this is the next big thing in tech industry. As a big fan of product design, user interface and touch technology, this is a very intriguing topic for me, so I went ahead and did some research. Here is what I found. Again, quick takeaways if you don’t have time for a deep dive now.

Rethinking-Touch-Screen-on-Laptop

Tablets and smartphones have become very popular lately. It’s so popular that touch as a new interaction paradigm has forever changed how people interact with their devices. Technology has never been so intimate and intuitive to normal users. There is something for you no matter you’re 8 years old or 80 years old. People start to think, if touch is so great, why not bring it back to our PC/laptop? We want to touch everything on the screen! Yet, before we get too excited about the idea, there are some challenges we need to be aware of and address carefully.

1. Laptop UI needs to be touch-optimized for the entire ecosystem

Touch works so well on tablet and smartphone because the OS is designed from the ground up to be touch-based or touch-optimized. The buttons are  bigger so even the fattest finger won’t have any problem touching it. The information architecture is flatter so everything is more discoverable. New interactions like pull to refresh, pinch to zoom are invented to enhance the experience.

iPad_multitouch

Image Source: Apple.com

But what we take for granted on a touch-based OS is not there yet on our laptop. The laptop OS is not designed with touch in mind. They were designed in the early days when mouse and keyboard is still the ‘new paradigm’. All UI elements are quite small since mouse cursor has very high accuracy. As people’s major machine for work, the softwares’ UI are designed to have 10 toolbars with 100 buttons on it, just to increase efficiency. Like this:

microsoft-word-toolbars-crazy

Image Source: http://blog.vlad1.com

To make a traditional laptop OS ‘touch-optimized’ is a more complicated job (making UI elements touchable, supporting sophisticated touch gestures, just to name a few) than just draw an equation between ‘touch’ and ‘click’.  It also involves the entire ecosystem, not only the OS itself. Software developers all need to implement the design upgrade. And if this challenge cannot be tackled, the touch experience on a laptop will remain ‘underwhelmed’ to users come from tablet space and ‘confused’ to the those only familiar with desktop computers.

2. Frequent inputs demand minimum interaction cost

Let’s face it. Your laptop is more and more becoming a content creating only machine. It’s really not optimized for content consuming these days. And we all know that content creating involves a lot of user input, be it entering a paragraph of text, making edits in spreadsheets or draw a vector in Photoshop. The users need to interact with their laptop to get the job down. And all interactions, my friends, come with a cost.

For touch, the biggest cost is that you’ll have to move your arms around. Since the tablet or smartphone are used mainly as a content consuming device which don’t demand a lot of user interactions, it’s still OK. But laptop is a content creating device. Frequently moving your arms around, and you have the ‘gorilla arm’ problem. Working for 8 hours and you’ll definitely felt arm sour or even ache. It’s not like moving inches using your mouse after all.

Vertical-Multitouch-300x164

Image Source: Wired.com

3. Arm travels need to be minimized

Touch involves arm travel. The bigger the screen, the further arm will have to travel to get the job done. We can grade the extent of involvement by how many joints one has to use to perform certain level of touch interaction.

Single Joint (Smartphone): Finger joints. Very comfortable, one hand operation.

Double Joints (Tablet): Finger and wrist joints. Still comfortable, but user has to hold tablet now

Triple Joints (Laptop): Finger, wrist and elbow joints. Not comfortable, gorilla arms.

Entire Arm (Desktop): Finger, wrist, elbow and shoulder joints. Very uncomfortable, only viable for special case.

The more joints it involves, the harder it is to perform a touch interaction, and the worse the user experience. Laptop screen size ranges from 11 inches to 19 inches. User will have to use up to their elbow joint to move around the screen, and if they are doing interaction intensive work for 8 hours? Well let’s just say they are no ‘Iron Man’.

iron man

4. Greasy screen issue

Greasy screen issue is not a laptop only issue. Tablet and smartphone also suffers from it. But user’s expectation is different here. For smartphone and tablet, people are putting fingers on it from day one, so it’s not a new issue for them. Also since the screen is smaller, the grease or finger prints aren’t too obvious, while for the bigger screen on laptop, they are easier to spot. Yes, users can use some laptop detergent kit to clean the screen, but it came nowhere near the convenience of rubbing the screen clean on user’s jeans, right?

5.  Need scale to lower touch screen cost

Cost difference is another important factor.  Even if touch is a compelling feature on laptop, if the cost increase is too much, people may not want to pay for it. Currently a touch screen based laptop cost 120$ to 150$ more than its non-touch counterpart. This will become less of an issue when the economy of scale kicks in, but it’s extra investment that OEM needs to put in to make things happen.

 

What are the ‘big boys’ doing?

apple-logo

                            Apple – The Seamless ‘Migrator’.

Apple’s approach on this is a bit on the ‘conservative’ side. Simply put, their strategy can be described as ‘Incremental Migrate ’. They are the first to introduce multi-touch interface and iOS is still the best mobile OS in terms of user experience. If we look at the recent evolution of their laptop Mac OS X, a lot of the UI changes (Mission Control, Full Page Swipe, Pinch/Double Tap to Zoom, etc.) are the mobile UI paradigms trickling down to laptop OS. Apple is addressing the OS ecosystem UI challenge incrementally, by introducing touch features into laptop one at a time.

On the arm travel distance challenge front, they have introduced a lot of multi-touch features leveraging their upgraded Magic Trackpad. User still only need to move their finger joints, yet enjoy most of the benefits multi-touch has to offer. They are slowly educate their laptop users, preparing them for the ultimate jump (full touch) that’s to come.

 

new-microsoft-logo-600Microsoft – The Heavy ‘Committer’

Contrary to everyone’s expectation, this time Microsoft is leading the industry and taking a big leap forward bringing touch to laptop. Their new flagship OS Windows 8, leverage its unique and sophisticated Modern UI, is a fully touch-enabled OS. User that don’t want to use touch can still switch back to Windows traditional UI. It sounds quite rosy, but people actually used the Surface Tablet running Windows 8 reported that it’s confusing and hard to use.

It seems that most Windows users are not ready for full-fledged touch OS yet. They are still learning to walk, and Microsoft already starts to run.

 

Google logo transparentGoogle – The Light Water-Tester

Google is not known as a hardware manufacturer. Yet lately, they are more and more involved in  hardware products. Case in point? Their Nexus line and Chromebook initiative. Recently, Google released their new Chromebook Pixel product, featuring a very nice touch-enabled Retina display. From the product reviews, Google hasn’t do any touch-optimization on the Chrome OS yet. It seems to me they are using touch as only an ‘enhancement’ to the browsing experience. They are just testing the water here. 

 

Summary

How the innovation landscape will shape up around laptop touch screen is yet to be revealed, and you’ll never know what will happen next. But the idea itself, barring all the challenges it faces, is still interesting and has great potential. Which direction do you think it will go? Among Apple, Microsoft and Google, who do you think has the best chance of success? Leave a comment and let me know!

Microsoft Surface Pro Tablet: What They Got Right on Hardware Design

Surface_Win_8_Pro_128GB_RM1

Microsoft Surface Pro Tablet: What They Got Right on Hardware Design

The gadget repair blog iFixit claimed today that Microsoft’s new tablet Surface Pro is even harder to repair than Apple’s iPad.  I’m not surprised at all. The entire ‘Surface’ tablet initiative is an attempt from the software giant to go vertical, go mobile and go relevant after all. Apple has been practicing the ‘vertical model’ artfully for years, and with great success. Tighter integration between software and hardware offers more streamlined products, which is extremely essential in the mobile era. Microsoft got it right when designing the Surface tablet’s hardware in several fronts:

1. They design the device to be a mobile device, not a portable version of a desktop counterparts. (cough..netbook…cough)

They seems to adopting ‘Mobile First’ motto in hardware design. That’s why they cram every components together tightly to make it as slim as possible. (which they had to, Apple has set the bar so high now with iPad and iPad Mini) This also lead to why it’s so hard to repair, because it’s not designed to be so like desktop/laptop PC did.

2. Go high quality, high-end, instead of cheap

When Microsoft first announced the price for Surface tablet, everyone was hit with surprise. It’s even more expensive than iPad. Crazy? Reality. Because the materials and components they use on the tablet are good quality ones, not cheap plastics. This at least enables them to compete with Apple on hardware, which is a very prevalent strategy adopted by most Android OEMs. Meanwhile, let’s not forget that Windows is not designed to be ‘lean’ and ‘streamlined’, they are designed to be ‘everything for everyone’, thus requires more hardware power to run smoothly, or at least not to sluggish.

I don’t really believe Microsoft want to move into hardware and compete head-on with their loyal OEM partners. I think what they really trying to do is like Google making Nexus: Set the yardstick and standard, so OEMs can follow. And showcase what the ‘best practice’ can do. OEMs not moving as fast as Microsoft has expected is another reason too.

3. Make it harder to repair instead of easier. 

The normal life span of a desktop/laptop PC is around 2 to 4 years. For mobile device, the number is much smaller. We’re talking about 9-18 months. Mobile device is designed to be disposable in the first place. This is actually a positive drive on the sales for mobile device since people will upgrade their device every year or so, buying new models. Making the device less ‘repairable’ will in effect encourage people to replace it with newer model instead of repairing it. (And R&R is a cost on Microsoft side too, which isn’t what the company used to handle as a software company)

Now it seems the hardware is pretty competitive already. The Windows 8 OS, on the other hand, seems to still has a long way to go on user interface and user experience. Early reports of Surface Pro sold out in Microsoft Stores and Best Buy could be an encouraging sign, but no one can say for sure before the actual sales number released.

What do you think of Surface Pro’s design? Will it gain any traction on the market? Leave a comment and let me know!

 

 

My Creepy Experience with GMail

My Creepy Experience with GMail

My piece of experience with Gmail that I hope someone could decipher for me:

In Gmail, I was forwarding an email to a friend talking about an attachment I sent him before. Hit ‘Send’ button. A notification dialog pup up:

‘We noticed that you mentioned to send an attachment, but this email doesn’t have an attachment. Did you forget to attach the file?’

Seriously? Reading my email to sell ads is bad enough but I can still stand it somehow. Reading my content and try to make sense of it, and make suggestions (even in the name of helping me the user) is very very CREEPY to me. I felt like you’re writing a private letter to your lovers at home, then someone pop out of nowhere telling you: ‘oh you really shouldn’t add that last line. She wouldn’t like suggestive language.’

Does anyone know what’s going on with this Gmail behavior?

Microsoft: Will It Survive the Next 5 Years?

steve-ballmerImage: via www.businessinsider.com

The newly released Microsoft Surface Pro and Surface RT has stirred up some discussions lately. A lot of reviews came out. This is suppose to be a big move on mobile for Microsoft, but the battlefield is already very crowded. So can Microsoft survive the bumpy road ahead?

It depends on the definition of survival. If survive means as a company Microsoft will still exist, then yes, it will survive the next 5 years. If the definition , being a bit more broader, is Microsoft keeping their current momentum and stay relevant in the technology industry, then it’s somewhat questionable. Three reasons I can see:

1. PC industry is withering
This can be seen from the ever shrinking PC manufacturers quarterly numbers. Desktop PCs had their days. But today, more and more people use their mobile device to consumer content, getting information, keep connected with friends. Serious content creating and enterprise will still use desktop PC, but the mass market has already shifted to mobile.

2. Microsoft is late to the ‘Mobile’ party
Every company NEED to has a mobile strategy and execute it swiftly. Some successful companies like Google even has the motto of ‘Mobile First’. Unfortunately, Microsoft is lagging behind on this front. The Windows Phone has yet to catch up to Android and iOS in shipments and ecosystem strength. (Number of apps in app store, developer support, etc.) In the ‘mobile’ game, first mover has huge advantage, and Microsoft has already been late to the party.

3. Organizational management challenges dragging their feet. 
People with some insights on how Microsoft runs will know that departments in charge of Windows and Office have huge power. A lot of the executives are from those departments. And all these departments don’t really talk to each other much. (as can be seen from their recent product strategy) Microsoft’s past success on these two products makes it harder to apply changes needed to future success. This is also part of why things are moving so slow in Redmond.

It’s actually not about survival, it’s about relevance. If Microsoft survives but lose all its relevance and influence in tech industry, will we still care about them?

Microsoft: To be or not to be

Microsoft: To be or not to be

The prior success of Microsoft Office relies heavily on the dominance of Windows operating system on desktop, and also on the dominance of desktop as THE platform for people to create and consume content. 

Those days are long gone. 

Now everything (read all the money) is going mobile and this is time to reshuffle the deck, everything company should have their mobile strategy in place and start executing, in order to get ahead of the game. Microsoft is lagging behind on vision due to their heavy legacy, and further slow on executing due to bureaucracy. Windows OS and Office are their bread and butter two money makers, they can’t afford to lose them. Windows 8 already shown sign of struggle because of the mixed user interface, now if Office also starts to slow down, I don’t know what they still have?

Xbox?

Internet Explorer Commercials: A Rare Breed from Microsoft

Internet Explorer

Today I came across the new Internet Explorer commercial: Child of the 90s 

I have to say I’m pretty impressed. Whatever advertising company came up with this, and whoever in Microsoft picked them should get a round of applause. It’s very human, in a nostalgic way, yet the scenes are still somewhat related to technology changes (which strikes the softer part of a geek’s heart like me).

The execution is pretty well too.  Carefully picked childhood memories, use of bold colors, lively music, work together to bring watcher back in time. And the best thing about it is, you don’t know what the ads is about until the last seconds, where the familiar IE icon shows. It helps build up some suspension during the process and the whole point of the ad is only revealed at the end, which is :’Don’t forget your childhood, ans we are part of that memory. Come back and visit us sometime.’.  It wouldn’t work if at the beginning of the ads the IE icon displayed, then people will judge and probably just turn their attention elsewhere.

The commercial itself is actually quite generic though. Any company with some history can run this , change switch out the IE icon. So I gave more credits to the ad company than Microsoft. But still, has the taste to pick the right partner is skill too.

See, my point here not only how awesome the commercial is, but also it’s a rare breed from Microsoft. It’s corporate image has long been ‘tainted’ by Steve Ballmer’s monkey jump performance for too many years. People look at Microsoft as an influential but intimidating, bullying company. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is an Apple’s work, but a commercial with a subtle approach and a soft touch come from Microsoft that people can totally relate? It is incredible impressive!

With the new Metro UI, the new commercial, I had a very vague feeling that something good (maybe very small still) on design front is happening in some corner of Microsoft. Anyone has more insights into this?

Another generic IE commercial that leverage great song from singer and good taste on Microsoft:  ‘Too Close’

Giant’s regret?

nokia-lumia-510

Image: Nokia

Nokia has recently confirmed in an interview that they won’t rule out Android’ as a future OS option just yet. Very interesting development in the mobile industry indeed.

Some said that the move for Nokia to partner with Microsoft (which at that time had no proven success in mobile, no ecosystem strength) is a misstep in the first place. The development we saw today may just be the hard facts starting to kick in. Things might be different should Microsoft and Nokia move faster and deliver more, but for two giants like they are, I’m not surprised they haven’t  managed more.  The entire tech industry’s shift to mobile happens not only in technology front, but also in mind-set. Being mobile means you’ll have to move faster (have more products delivered per year), be more creative (some time as destructive as Apple), be more flexible (enter Samsung, with their hundreds of different types of handsets released per year), to even survive.

Having said that, I still think there’s hope for the Microsoft-Nokia duo:

1. Windows OS is unique in experience

windows-phone-7-metro-490x343-1

Image: Metro UI via AnandTech

No matter how Android fans try to defend it, the Android OS offer similar if not inferior experience like iOS. But Windows  Modern UI (used to be Metro UI, they changed the term to avoid trademark problem) is totally designed from ground up to be unique and it’s a well thought out design at that. The Windows experience feels more ‘fluidly’ in using (surprise surprise!) thanks to all the smooth and cool screen transition animations. The interface is very minimalistic and easy to use, a breath of fresh air on the look and feel of the heavily-chromed Android/iOS UI and fits into Nokia’s conventional UI style quite well. Even the most die-hard Apple fan boy can’t accuse Windows Modern UI being a copycat.

2. Windows OS is patent-infringement proof

The entire industry is keeping a close eye on the ongoing Samsung’s ‘lawsuit of the century’ with Apple, and the attention is very well deserved. Because it will carve out the future shape of mobile OS landscape. If OEMs end up needing to pay a high loyalty fee to use Android OS, then suddenly Microsoft become very appealing as an alternative. Not all company has the deep pocket and thick face to go into a huge law suit war with Apple like Samsung did.

3. Scale wise, Microsoft-Nokia is the only candidate to compete with the Google-Samsung duo.

nokia-microsoft-wp7-1297413404

Scale still counts these days. Without Google’s influence on Internet and Samsung’s huge business machine on developing and delivering hundreds of devices per year, Android won’t be at the place they are today. To match it, similar scale is almost a must. (Look at Palm’s ‘downfall’ as a proof of this point, they have all the correct ingredients, just not big enough to push for ecosystem penetration to a tipping point. ) Combining Nokia’s market share and reputation on mobile device and Microsoft’s influence (mind share) on desktop OS, they definitely should be able to compete head to head with anyone.

Whatever Nokia or Microsoft want to do, they must act fast and don’t ever look back. Nokia might be the no.1 mobile device manufacturer and Microsoft the no.1 desktop OS, but those are history and holds very little credit on a fast paced, ever-changing mobile industry.