5 unanswered questions from the Windows 10 event

Image credit: Microsoft
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Microsoft presented a more consumer focused Windows 10 keynote yesterday, showing off how the operating system will scale across devices and deliver the universal experience the company has been promising for years now.

As a Windows consumer I am very excited by the new features, integration with Xbox and what seems like a renewed focus on Windows for Phones (the old “Windows Phone” name looks to be gone). Yet as a Windows developer I have a flood of questions which I expect to be answered at BUILD this year, I thought I’d share a few of the more burning ones with you.

Is horizontal scrolling a thing of the past?

Xbox app on Windows 10 - Image credit: Microsoft

Vertical scrolling columns as far as the eye can see

One of the points of discussion in my previous article on how our apps can be prepared for Windows 10 was the use of horizontal or vertical scrolling according to a portrait or landscape app window. Looking over all of the demo apps shown yesterday I didn’t see anything using the traditional horizontally scrolled grid, the Mail apps, the Calendar app and the Xbox app demo all used vertically scrolling columns in grids.

I don’t think this is a bad idea at all, in fact for tablet it will probably be more familiar for users coming from other platforms, and on desktop is makes a lot more sense than horizontal scrolling. However this question also expands to Windows on the Phone; I didn’t see a single Pivot control in the demonstration apps shown at the keynote – even the photos app was using the horizontal gesture in a different way – it looks like the hamburger menu will be taking over for these universal apps?

How will ‘back’ work on phone now?

Windows 10 keynote mail app

Count the left facing arrows

The other major UX change that looks to be coming around is the addition of apps with a software back button. This is major conjecture at this point but looking at the demonstrations of Mail and Calendar yesterday there were software back buttons in the top left corner of the apps.

I suspect this is simply because these are new universal apps and that back button needs to exist on the tablet/desktop experience, but it could be an odd UX decision to give users two different places where they can go ‘back’ in the operating system.

How universal are the new “universal apps”?

Universal Windows 10 photos app

Joe Belfiore demonstrates a universal photos app

Specifically, will we get C# on Xbox One? Come on Microsoft, you know we all want to develop C#/XAML apps for Xbox One and some confirmation would be good!

On a more serious note, we’ve heard the universal app, same code promise before. The caveats in place have always been fairly substantial. Either you had to write in WinJS with a few clever tricks to move everything across platforms. Or you could share a substantial amount of code between Windows and Windows Phone but with different views for the different screen sizes.

I like the way universal apps currently work between Windows and Windows Phone, and it would be good to get some confirmation as to whether this will be expanded to Xbox, or replaced by something new. Of course yesterday’s event wasn’t the place to announce something so detailed, but it’s a question all the same.

Will the Xbox One app store become self-publish?

I doubt this one a lot, because Microsoft has rightly kept tight control over the experiences you can have on their console. However with the new Windows 10 OS and a renewed focus on universal apps, the possibilities of indie app developers creating experiences for the TV could give Microsoft a true differentiator over their rivals.

Why is the taskbar still in use for tablet mode?

Windows 10 on a small tablet

Not the usual taskbar seen on desktop, but it’s lost real estate

Admittedly this one skews towards a consumer question. I’m not yet convinced by having a taskbar available in a tablet experience. Microsoft are clearly using a different task bar when in tablet mode as the individual app icons are not available, and it’s a solid dark colour which is hopefully intentional so as not to draw focus from the full screen app experience. This means the purpose of the task bar must be for exposing buttons lost due to the charms bar no longer being available (search and the Windows key).

I can appreciate this is probably necessary due to not having hardware equivalents on some tablets, but where there is limited screen real estate on smaller tablets it feels like a waste. Considering many Windows 8 apps are written with an assumption of a (minimum of 768 pixels of vertical space in landscape mode there are going to need to be a lot of updates to those existing apps now that some of those pixels have been yielded to a permanent task bar (unless of course it will be possible to hide in some way).

 

I won’t go into the kind of questions that come with seeing HoloLens unveiled. Obviously like many developers I’m keen to get my hands on it and discover if all the wild ideas are possible, or if there are limitations to how we can build applications. Right now the early versions seem to show that interaction with holograms is limited to a single air tap, voice commands, and moving your gaze around. If we aren’t able to use gestures I suspect it will put a stop to many ideas, but for now we can dream right?

3 thoughts on “5 unanswered questions from the Windows 10 event

  1. GoodThings2Life

    A few comments:

    1. I’m actually VERY GLAD to see the elimination of horizontal scrolling in apps on desktop… less so to see it go away on Phone, except… I’m actually happy to see a little more consistency, I guess, between cross-platform design. I think Modern/Metro scared a lot of developers away (for better or worse), and hope this solidarity will convince them to come back.

    2. I think the same comments apply to the Back button, but my guess is it will work exactly the same today… for phones that have one. If I’m a betting man on this, I say the back button will no longer be a hardware requirement on new phones. Which, I think is fine IFF the apps take on a truly universal design found cross-platform. After all, Apple has survived 7 years without a back button, right? Not to mention all the Windows desktop and tablet devices that only have a Windows button, which leads nicely to…

    3. If we’re lucky, and judging by the new Settings Universal App and Skype and Mail I think we might just be, I get the impression they are really working hard to provide a truly universal API set this time around and the only difference in coding would be “screen size” oriented for UI. I can’t wait to hear from devs (since I’m just an IT guy) to know if we’re getting a true Universal Apps 2.0 or if this is more like 1.5 (Win 8.1 being 1.0), and we’ll be waiting for 2.0 next spring. Obviously, I hope that it’s 2.0 right from Build, so that this vision doesn’t miss any steps in adoption.

    4. One store to rule them all is what they’re preaching, right? So again, we can hope for a self-publish option for games… especially if all the above points hold true.

    5. Personally, I prefer the taskbar being visible, but I should imagine that this is still a temporary thing or that it’s a user preference. Certainly by time of release this should be controllable, so we’ll see just how well they’re taking our feedback seriously. Otherwise, I agree, it’s a waste on small display devices.

    6. For good measure, I’m equally curious to know if they will continue to make improvements on the desktop regarding display scaling. I really don’t think I can take the current methods seriously much longer with higher and higher DPI/resolution displays becoming the norm and Windows desktop becoming more and more, umm, microscopic… and/or apps becoming blurry messes because their devs are too lazy to embrace scaling.

    • Jay Bennett

      Very good point about the DPI scaling situation. Currently that’s left to Win32 app developers to implement on their own and it’s going to be time soon to attempt to do something universal that doesn’t end up with a blurred outcome. That said, it’s difficult given the old technology never really anticipated this situation, perhaps Windows 10 will be enough to convince developers to port old Win32 applications to the Modern application platform?

  2. Mathias

    A question I had was:
    What if you say ‘Hey Cortana’ to your PC, and your Lumia is listening too? Who’s going to listen to you?
    There are specific phone and PC questions to ask, so there’s no knowing up front.

    The down side right now is that the phone won’t automatically lock itself again after it has answered your question, while Cortana was summoned from a locked device.

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