For 30 years, the computer world has been very simple: Microsoft equals boring, corporate, and evil, and Apple equals cool, hip, and creative.
Boys and girls, it's time to unlearn that timeworn formula. Windows 8 (and especially Windows Mobile) is cool, hip, and creative... and it makes Apple's iOS look like a relic of the 1980s. Windows 8 and Windows Mobile is the future, and Apple is stuck playing catch-up. And Google's Android, because it's essentially a copy of Apple's iOS, is way back there with Apple. Here's my radical claim: If you are a creative type, if you are a designer, if you like to say that you care about good design -- I don't believe you anymore if you don't own a Windows 8 computer and a Windows Mobile phone.
The negative reviews of Windows 8 basically all say the same thing: It's just too damned innovative, too radically different. (One example: Simson Garfinkel's review in MIT Technology Review.) And frankly, I think that's why the average consumer isn't loving Windows 8 and Windows Mobile. (Another reason is that the best touch-screen laptops, like the brilliant Lenovo Yoga, are too expensive for the average consumer.) But if you're a creative or a designer, you're not the average consumer -- you're supposed to be voting for creativity and good design.
Don't take my word for it. Windows 8 won all sorts of design awards, including from Fast Company Magazine. Lev Grossman's excellent article in TIME Magazine put a word on what makes iOS and Android look so old-fashioned when compared to Windows Mobile: skeuomorph (pronounced skyoo-uh-morf). A skeuomorph refers to an element in an object's design that's no longer functionally necessary but gets retained anyway, just for ornamental or decorative purposes. The trash can in Apple's operating system doesn't have to look like a trash can. There's no reason that a computer operating system has to look like piles of papers arranged on a desk. But they still do, because back in the 1970s a team at Xerox PARC designed it that way. (Apple famously "borrowed" that design for the first MacIntosh.) And now that Microsoft has ditched skeuomorphy altogether, Apple's iOS looks like an antique. Windows Mobile looks beautiful.
Before writing this blog post, I was waiting for this week's Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, because I'd been hearing rumors that designer Jonathan Ives was leading a major redesign that would try to make up the innovation gap that's opened between Microsoft and Apple. Now the design has been unveiled, and Apple has only come up with superficial, cosmetic changes, and that means Windows 8 and Windows Mobile will be far ahead for at least a couple of more years.
(Grossman's June 3 article predicted that Jonathan Ives was "ruthlessly purging all remaining skeuomorphic elements from Apple's operating systems, thereby plunging users into a brave new world." Well, apparently that was just too innovative for Apple. After all, as Grossman goes on to point out, "Apple is a house built on skeuomorphism" and "Apple's software has been littered with skeuomorphs.")
Computer manufacturers are losing sales to smartphones and tablets. The future is touch, and Microsoft 8 goes all in with touch, making the tablet and desktop experience blend seamlessly. I agree that it doesn't make sense to have Windows 8 unless you have a touch screen, and up to now they've been expensive. But starting this fall, Microsoft has been working with hardware manufacturers to get the price point of a laptop down well under $500. Apple wants everyone to buy a laptop and a tablet. With Windows 8, you get both in one device.
So if you don't like Windows 8 because it is "too innovative" or if you don't like Windows Mobile because "it looks weird," at least you'll have to admit that Microsoft has proven itself capable of breakthrough innovation, of not simply copying the others. Windows 8 is the first operating system that's not an imitation of something else since Xerox PARC designed the GUI back in the 1970s. Microsoft has taken the mantle of innovation and good design away from Apple. I agree completely with Lev Grossman's conclusion:
Now Apple, for a wonder, is chasing Microsoft.