Creators Update Marks a Welcome Return to the People-Centric Focus of Windows Phone

Posted on November 30, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10, Windows Phones with 35 Comments

Creators Update Marks a Welcome Return to the People-Centric Focus of Windows Phone

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.

people-pane

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.

docked

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.

 

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15 Comments
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  1. 2 | Reply
    zbecka Alpha Member #2154 - 6 days ago

    This is exciting.  I frequently realize that I want to communicate with someone first and then figure out via which medium. 

  2. 2 | Reply
    darkgrayknight Alpha Member #2285 - 6 days ago

    Yes, this is what made me love Windows Phone. Having this available will be great.

  3. 1 | Reply
    Bart Alpha Member #117 - 6 days ago

    I am very much looking forward to this feature. Also very curious about how this will look like when in "tablet-mode". Any news on this Paul?

    1. 1 | Reply
      Breaker119 Alpha Member #766 - 6 days ago
      In reply to Bart:

      Same here - I generally use my Surface in tablet mode (and about half of that in portrait) I often miss having the task bar, but I want things to open in full screen when I'm using it as a tablet...

    2. 0 | Reply
      RonH Alpha Member #149 - 6 days ago
      In reply to Breaker119:

      I believe you can have the task bar in tablet mode, and full screen apps if you auto hide the taskbar...

       

  4. 0 | Reply
    charms55 Alpha Member #1608 - 6 days ago

    Microsoft chased android and apple and lost their soul on Windows phone. The me tile integrated, the people tile, the photos. Even Xbox music (Zune). I am looking at possibly moving to android, but after several weeks of struggling to make a Nexus work for me even with outlook mail, Cortana, etc. It just did not have what Windows phone still has. I found i only used a handful of apps not available or Google Maps. I grew tired of chasing notifications, missed my life tiles and what was left of integration.

  5. 0 | Reply
    Simard57 Alpha Member #631 - 6 days ago

    I was pleasantly surprised when i opened people on my windows phone to fine a timeline tab that had soma, email and skype interactions with a person. Maybe it was always there but I jade not noticed it.  a nice aggregation of direct interactions

     

    1. 0 | Reply
      Simard57 Alpha Member #631 - 6 days ago
      In reply to Simard57:

      Sms not soma

       

      Why can't I edit my post?

  6. 0 | Reply
    zorb56 Alpha Member #2215 - 5 days ago

    Neat!  I hope to see it turn out well.  Too bad exactly 5 third party developers will embrace it and 1 of those 5 will not maintain it.

  7. 0 | Reply
    Lewk Alpha Member #958 - 6 days ago

    Hopefully this forces Facebook to remake their apps to be native UWP apps and not the ported iOS garbage that runs like a slow stuttering train wreck.

  8. 0 | Reply
    EnterMegatron99 Alpha Member #189 - 6 days ago

    My first thought was:  "Great...just in time to implement it before Win 11". (Yes I know there's not supposed to be a Win11...but any long time WP user knows this circle of hell all too well.)  Let's hope they've done this right this time through.

  9. 0 | Reply
    chrisrut Alpha Member #193 - 6 days ago

    "But this kind of core improvement to Windows 10 is a big deal, and will impact far more users."

    I agree. It is no that one can't do any of these things with existing tools - it is that the tools more completely disappear - so as to not distract the user from the work at hand.

  10. 0 | Reply
    glenn8878 Alpha Member #2387 - 6 days ago

    A people hub is no longer necessary since many Mail apps share and copy contact information via their smart phones. My iPhone backs up Contact and Calendar entries between my various email accounts (Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook). Therefore, Windows merely needs to import contact information from any email service. Facebook already requests contact information from your email account or phone contacts. Rather hypocritical from their Hub position. Nonetheless, Windows via this new approach has finally figured it out.

  11. 0 | Reply
    unfalln Alpha Member #312 - 6 days ago

    In the phone-share scenario, asking for the user first is pure genius... until you realise that we also want to share things to Reading List, OneNote, etc. If they give the option of both users and non-user-based apps on phones, I wonder if that will translate back to desktop with Reading List and OneNote being additional targets in the My People section...?

  12. 0 | Reply
    Ryster Alpha Member #97 - 6 days ago

    Awesome. When will this appear in insider builds?