Windows 8: Our Initial Impressions
The Metro interface featured so prominently in Windows 8 is impressive in its own right. Frankly, it's the most significant UI change we've seen since the transition from Windows 3.1 to 95. This is really about bringing tighter integration to all of Microsoft's products, from smartphones to the Xbox 360. And Metro is a major step toward achieving that goal.
On a desktop, Metro feels less intuitive, if only because we're not used to it yet. In our opinion, there's a lot to like about Microsoft's design. The solid color palette and clean text reflects the company's minimalistic approach, which conveys a sense of natural usability. However, if third-party tools are any indicator of what Windows 8 is capable of, it appears that you should be able to disable the Metro UI completely and stick with a Vanilla desktop environment. (Right now, that's only possible through a third party tool called Metro UI Tweaker for Windows 8.)
Windows 8 isn't perfect, because it's not (at least not in its current pre-beta state). Microsoft is letting everyone get a peek at core functionality in its Developer Build, but we're hoping that the company makes some tweaks before it goes gold. Our biggest complaint with Metro continues to be the inability to quit apps, similar to Android. And if you're a developer, the need for a touchscreen to access the touch keyboard is going to slow down the process of checking usability. Hopefully, the Microsoft team makes the keyboard more easily accessible. It really needs momentum on the application side if it wants to fight against the incumbent Apple.
On the tablet side, 79.2% of tablet owners confirmed owning either an iPad or iPad 2 (source: IHS iSuppli 2011), and 50% of those shopping for a new tablet said they would buy an iPad 2. Google hasn't made much of a dent in the tablet market because it mistakenly launched Honeycomb without enough third-party developer support. We're eight months beyond the introduction of Honeycomb and tablet-specific apps are still fewer than 300. The figures that Google likes to cite seem more impressive because many apps are simply upconverted for a larger screen. Very few programs are designed expressly for Android tablets.
If Microsoft wants to make its mark on the smartphone and tablet scene, it needs to hit the ground running with an abundance of developer support. The company is off to a good start, but only time will tell if it has enough juice to close the gap.