With the Windows 10 Creators Update, Microsoft is bringing back a profound benefit from Windows phone: Its people-centric user experience..
Think back for a moment to the original Windows Phone 7 Series announcement, which happened at Mobile World Congress 2010. At that time, Microsoft announced a new mobile platform that, unlike Android, wasn’t a direct rip-off of the iPhone. Instead, Microsoft had rethought the smartphone and what it could be. And rather than center the experience around launching in and out of apps, it focused instead on the user. And the things that were most important to that user.
As I wrote in Five Years Later, a Full-On Retreat from What Made Windows Phone Special, Windows phone was to be “a different kind of phone,” one that puts “the stuff that is important to you right on your Start screen” via live tiles, rather than requiring you to jump in and out of apps as with iPhone. Those tiles would provide “real-time updates” about your “contacts, games, and music.”
The People experience—called the People hub, originally, was a key part of that vision. Windows Phone 7 Series would provide access to your “most recent contacts at your fingertips,” meaning that when you tapped the People tile, you would see the Recent view, which was a group of tiles representing recently accessed contacts. It would also provide “live updates from social media sites like Facebook and Windows Live.”
This hub notion—”integrated experiences,” with People being a core example—was a key Windows Phone 7 Series differentiator. The idea was that content from multiple sources would be aggregated into a single UI, the hub, and that you as the user would not need to remember where information was stored. If you wanted a person, you went into People.
It was a wonderful idea. But it failed because of third parties didn’t buy into it. For example, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks want to promote their brands, not be subsumed into some built-in OS utility.
And while the vaunted Windows phone UI, with its live tiles, was demonstrably “better” than the “whack-a-mole” UI that we see on iOS and Android, was also too unfamiliar. So while Windows phone fans still point to this system as a key differentiator, 99 percent of the smartphone-using public couldn’t care less. As I noted in The Long, Slow Decline of Windows Phone, Windows phone failed where it mattered, and it succeeded where it does not matter.
But then there’s the broader Windows 10 platform that works across the PC and so many other device types (including phone).
As Windows 8 has been pushed aside for Windows 10 and then matured over subsequent updates, I’ve watched as the People app—the modern successor to Windows phone’s People hub—has diminished. In Windows 8, for example, the People app offered basic integration capabilities, where you could post to social networks. Today’s People hub, however, is literally a shell of its former self, a barren wasteland that does nothing more than simply aggregate your contacts lists from various online accounts.
So I watched with some surprise and fascination as Microsoft announced the new My People interface that is coming in the Windows 10 Creators Update. It’s not clear how or if this interface will be adapted for mobile, though of course it looks an awful lot like a standard smartphone interface. But it will bring much of what was special about the People hub (back) to the PC, at the very least.
I wrote about the sharing aspects of My People the other day in New Share Experience is Coming (Soon) to Windows 10. But My People goes deeper than just sharing. In a video aimed at developers, Microsoft’s Kevin Gallo explains that My People is a new user experience for accessing your most-frequently-used contacts.
“Our goal with Windows is to make sure that people who are important to you are easily accessible,” Gallo explains. “You can have quick interactions, you can share things with them, you can communicate with them. So we [are] putting them … in the taskbar. Now you can pin people who are important to you to the taskbar, and you just drag things down there to make [sharing and communication] happen.”
Aside from the obvious—the ability to drag and drop files to the taskbar-based content, and the fact that apps will utilize the new sharing UI as well—the My People contacts can be accessed as you would have on Windows phone, or if you’re one of the few people who ever pinned a contact to the Start menu in Windows 10: You can simply select one of these contacts to see which options are available.
And this new People pane UI is not only more attractive than what we see in today’s People app, it’s more functional: You can access apps that are associated with contacts for sharing purposes—Mail, Skype, Xbox, and so on—too. One assumes (or at least helps) that People will be getting a similar makeover.
As you can see, there is a Suggested app ad at the bottom of this pane. What’s interesting there is that if you select the suggested app, it will install from there; no need to visit the Windows Store.
Even more interesting, apps can display UI right inside the new People pane. And this, I think, is Microsoft’s answer to the problem with hubs: Instead of replacing apps and services, Microsoft is allowing third parties to put their own UI and brands right there in the People pane. That this pane emulates a phone screen in size/aspect ratio is not coincidental, Gallo says. Nicely done.
An app display in the People pane is called docked mode. But you can also trigger the full app experience if you want. So it’s sort of a best of both worlds scenario, for both developers and users.
No, it’s not flashy like Windows Holographic or Surface Studio. But this kind of core improvement to Windows 10 is a big deal, and will impact far more users. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.