Apple’s Video Service Will Succeed Where Microsoft Failed (Premium)

I was reading yet another article about what we can expect from the streaming video service that Apple will announce next week and my mind suddenly jumped to an uncomfortable place. What Apple is attempting here is not really all that unique. In fact, aggregating content from multiple sources and presenting it to the user in a clean, singular interface is arguably the dream of the modern age. It is nothing less than the refutation of the “whack-a-mole” interaction model that Apple first championed with the iPhone in 2007.

And maybe Apple, of all companies, will be the one that actually succeeds in breaking past that simplistic and unscalable interface. Ironic.

It certainly isn’t the first to try to do so. (And, this isn’t even Apple’s first attempt at trying to do so, but let’s stay focused for a moment.) When Microsoft launched its internal efforts to replace Windows Mobile with a new platform that could be more competitive with the iPhone, the firm, to its credit, really thought outside the box. Unlike Google, with Android, Microsoft sought to be both different and better than iPhone, and to do that broadly across the new system, called Windows Phone.

We all know how this story ends. And that Microsoft’s good intentions did not amount to anything more than a distant third place finish in a mobile market that was destined to conclude with only two major players.

But Windows Phone should be remembered for its ideas, and fondly, because Microsoft really tried to rethink the way that users interacted with their phones. It started a people-centric user experience push that continues to this day in Microsoft’s other products and services. And It contained unique user experiences that, on the surface, appeared to solve real problems.

Key among them was the concept of the hub, a special kind of panoramic app that would aggregate a user’s content from multiple services and present it as a cohesive, single view. There would be a Pictures hub, for example, where you could view, share, and edit all of your pictures across multiple services. A Music + Videos hub that would do the same for digital music, TV shows, movies, and other videos. A Games hub. Even the Messaging app, which wasn’t technically a hub, was designed to aggregate conversations from across SMS, MMS, Windows Live Messenger, Skype, and third-party messaging apps.

That was the dream. Hubs were great for users because they eliminated the “whack-a-mole” interaction that Apple popularized with the iPhone and iOS’s simplistic grid of icons. In that model, every photo service you use needs its own app and on-screen icon. So when you want to find a photo to share, or whatever, you need to first think which service/app it’s in, and then remember where it is on-screen, both the position of the app icon and which home screen it's on. And if you get it wrong, you go back out again to the home screen, think some more---where is that damn thing?---and ...

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