Microsoft made an excellent job at inventing and making successful the 2-in-1 form factor. They pretty much took away Apple’s and Google’s tablet business, leaving them only with their smartphone offerings. But they didn’t win the war, not just yet and I think the lack of PR for this new category of touch capable devices and apps is the only thing holding them back.
While the Surface brand represents nothing less than revolutionary new designs and form factors, with the focus of bringing touch everywhere, on the software side, I feel like this effort is not quite emphasised. When one enters the Store, there is an “Available on” section for apps and games that shows the types of devices the app supports. And regardless of the enormous efforts they make on the hardware front to make the 2-in-1 form factor the next evolution of laptops and make it mainstream, apps that are available for PCs just have the PC icon, which by the way is a Desktop PC. Laptops, Ultrabooks, Convertibles, 2-in-1s and “pure” tablets are all merged under the label: “PC”.
I think this is a big problem.
First of all, UWP needs advertisement, Microsoft has to rub it into people’s face that UWP apps in the Store can be used with touch. It’s such a simple and cheap advertisement to list one more device type, to be explicit about supporting touch interaction. It’s one more icon in the list, it will give that eye-opening thought to the user that Windows is available on plenty of device types, not just traditional Desktop and Laptop PCs.
Secondly, there are an increasing number of “bridged” desktop apps in the Store, and many don’t have proper DPI scaling and doesn’t support touch either. Because of these apps, I do believe that there should be a differentiation between truly touch capable and legacy apps. And by the way, for these apps, the current Desktop PC icon would be an absolutely perfect fit. There are “bridged” desktop apps with touch support, like Office or Photoshop, so I’m not talking about UWP vs Win32, but we need this differentiation, we need to make it clear whether an app can be used on one of these shiny new touch capable PCs (let it be a Surface Pro-like 2-in-1, a Surface Studio-like Desktop or a Surface Hub-like digital whiteboard).
Microsoft is already doing this with Mixed Reality. Mixed Reality is not a standalone thing, it’s just part of the Desktop OS – just like the Tablet mode – and while you can run any app in the Mixed Reality environment – in worst case you just get a virtual 2D monitor in the Mixed Reality environment – apps that do support the Mixed Reality controls and maybe even provide some 3D functionality to blend with the physical world will be stamped with the little headset icon in the Store. Similarly to that, one can run any app on one’s Surface Pro in Tablet mode, but not all apps will really work well in that environment.
One more thing – the Pen
While I was mostly talking about touch support, I think Microsoft should make further efforts to standardise digital pens so an ecosystem of 3rd party vendors could grow up providing all kinds of styluses for capable Windows 10 devices. Digital pens should be like keyboards and mice. I would like to see Logitech releasing some good looking and ergonomic styluses that can be used with all kind of Windows PCs from small to big: phones, tablets, desktops, digital whiteboards.
A pen is also a decoration, a piece of jewellery, for many it’s as important as their suit or watch. Just look at the wearable market, we can see a trend that big, luxury brands are releasing smart watches for, in luxury quality and price. The same could happen to digital pens.
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