If I could get paid for each time I’ve been asked which UX technology/platform should one bet on in order to produce the next generation of software in day to day business – I’d be quite well paid!
I don’t have an answer, and what’s really sad about that is that I should have a few answers not just a single one.
Today, you’re spoiled for a choice of technologies to help you produce some user experience namely for mobility. Since the introduction of the iPhone and iPad it’s arguably put something we’ve all kind of known into the mainstream hands, which is “experience matters”. Businesses are now keen to ensure that the next piece of software they produce works like it would on an iPad or iPhone (the amount of times I’ve been given a brief that uses that as its baseline for success is almost 90%+).
Why the issue in selecting today then? Well let’s look at the brands in question.
You cannot disagree that Apple’s influence on the UX discussion has been quite loud and obvious. Almost all phones and tablet devices have pretty much copied the entire existence of their products to the point where even though they hadn’t invented some of the ideas, they now look as if they did. Having said that, Apple still is a prescribed existence in that in order to play on their hardware you have to develop & design to their standards. You also have a limited amount of agility in order to take the device and slot it into various enterprise/industry verticals (mining, finance etc).
Distributing your solutions via a closed private cloud like existence can be done with iPad/iPhones but its still a bit messy in deployment. Furthermore inside almost all large organizations your cubicles of developers don’t have “Objective-C” in their resumes.
Whilst it has become the baseline for what a device driven UI should look like in the eyes of most business and technical decision makers, it’s still got a lot of latency and turbulence around its software development life cycle (i.e. it’s fast become a specialist skill not so much as a mainstream one).
Google / Android.
Google have managed to hold strong with their device platform story, that is to say their entire development and design pipeline isn’t that bad. Having said that I’ve seen, heard and been in enough meetings to see it being instantly rejected and it has to do with versioning and security as the core reasons for rejection (right or wrong).
Furthermore Java development at its core isn’t something you see go hand in hand with design focused teams, so again you have this issue with as stated by Apple around specialist skills vs. mainstream skills mixed with some market acceptance issues.
Just read my blog for a few pages you’ll see a theme emerge. Microsoft had a few ideas around what the UX space should look like, they put some bets on the table around these ideas, they got some semi-successful acceptance worldwide on these ideas but now they’ve kind of hit reset on the said ideas, taking two steps back and pissed the developer base off in the process.
To summarize, Microsoft has a whole new round of trust issues around long-term decision making, their tooling is good enough to build large enterprise applications with and lastly they still have a healthy developer base that have mainstream skills in C# & XAML.
The downside is their entire strategy around what you should or shouldn’t do going forward is out of control and requires a focused mind to unravel.
What I would say though is that Windows 7 is likely to be around and in a healthy state over the next 3-5 years and I think the hardware market will still look into ways in how to socket Windows 7 as their native OS when possible (for business, not so much for consumers). Given Windows 8 Surface is making their own hardware it could also be a negative for Microsoft, so whilst the only real option for hardware makers is to adopt Windows 7 or other, this in turn puts a long-term question mark around whether or not Silverlight or WPF should be something you double down on?
I often praise Adobe more than I have in the past as despite how close they came to overtaking HTML as rich media technology platform, they have managed to regroup nicely around being focused on tooling.
Given the turbulence above this company may solve the problem through tooling so it could even abstract the decision making process around which is the next bet by simply saying “it doesn’t matter, just use Adobe XTool”.
It’s still a long way off before that idea is realized, but none the less Adobe Flex / Flash aren’t something one should ignore outright. It still has some legs and although its clear Adobe Flash and iOS will never meet, they do meet however on Android and potentially Microsoft Windows device(s).
Despite Silverlight’s attempt to knock Adobe Flash out of the decision process if anything Silverlight’s demise has strengthens the runtime’s position further.
That’s all argumentative, so who’d you pick?
There the above working summaries overall and it really comes back to the question of making a decision. A decision like this is important and still necessary as when you start making architectural bets for the life of your next industrial grade solution, you need to line up how you’re going to present your connectivity to its vast user base.
Walking into a meeting and saying “all of the above” won’t fly, walking in and holding the posture of “right tool, right job” mantra also may make you feel like you’re a software mountain sage it does little for productizing ideas/solutions to a customer base who have a variety of IT environment(s) that are looking to your company as a lifeline to making the said decision.
Bottom line is someone somewhere has to be the one that says let’s go with “X, because…”
If I was asked today which one I’d pick out of the lot, given I’ve worked in all the above.
My bet for enterprise would be WPF for one simple reason – Windows 7.
Microsoft spent all of last year praising how successful Windows 7 was in terms of sales, record profits and so on. What I got from all that bravado was that whilst Windows 7 was stomping on Windows XP wind pipe, it also was replacing the old problem with a new. That is it won’t be something in which gets deleted from Enterprise machines that cubicle workers and field agents use today anytime soon.
That for me has a much further and greater ubiquity story than most either realize or choose to acknowledge.
iPads are definitely something that may get some traction going further in large business but ultimately it’s such a specialized decision that I think having those devices do anything outside of a HTML app in its first generation of solutions in the enterprise is something that I’d say isn’t a worthwhile bet (it’s still in pioneering mode).
WPF and WinForms will still have a much longer usage than most will also care to agree outloud but I think once Silverlights engines get shut down more and more the retreat position for most will be back to WPF whilst they wait for the whole WinRT story to stabilize.
Adopting WPF today gives you also some healthy amount of skills to target WinRT later on, but it also gets you into a position where there is a likely chance of some additional changes / upgrades should the WinRT vision fall flat (Which I’m thinking it may very well).
That’s what I’d say out loud, as I’d say this based simply on your HR recruitment potential, tooling story and lastly ubiquity related decisions that are made in organizations where little patience is given to solutions built in HTML of the past.
My opinion has now been noted, so what would you bet on and why?
There seems to be an undercurrent of contempt towards Digital Skeuomorphism – the art of taking real world subject material and dragging it kicking & screaming into your current UI design(s) (if you’re an iPad designer mostly).
I’ve personally sat on the fence with regards to this subject as I do see merit in both sides of the argument in terms of those who believe it’s gotten out of hand vs those who swear it’s the right mix to helping people navigate UX complexity.
Here’s what I know.
I know personally that the human mind is much faster at decoding patterns that involve depth and mixed amounts of color (to a degree). I know that while sight is one of our sensory radars working 24/7 it is also one that often scans ahead for known pattern(s) to then decode at sub-millisecond speeds.
I know we often think in terms of analogies when we are trying to convey a message or point. I know designers scour the internet and use a variety of mediums (real life subject matter and other people(s) designs) to help them organize their thoughts / mojo onto a blank canvas.
Finally I know that with design propositions like the monochrome like existence of Metro it has created an area of conflict around like vs dislike in comparison to the rest of the web that opts to ignore these laid out principles by Microsoft design team(s).
Here’s what I think.
I think Apple design community has taken the idea of theming applications to take on a more unrealistic but realistic concepts and apply them to their UI designs are more helpful then hurtful. I say this as it seems to not only work but solves a need – despite the hordes mocking its existence.
I know I have personally gone my entire life without grabbing an envelope, photo, and a paperclip and attached them together – prior – to writing a letter to a friend.
Yet, there is a User Interface out there in the iPad AppStore that is probably using this exact concept to help coach the user that they are in fact writing a digital letter to someone with a visual attachment paper clipped to the fake envelope it will get sent in.
Why is this a bad idea?
For one it’s not realistic and it easily can turn a concept into a fisher price existence quite fast. Secondly it taps into the same ridiculous faux UI existence commonly found in a lot of movies today (you know the ones, where a hacker worms his way into the banks mainframe with lots of 3D visuals to illustrate how he/she is able to overcome complex security protocols).
It’s bad simply for those two reasons.
It’s also good for those two reasons. Let’s face it the more friction and confidence we can build in end-users around attaching real-life analogies or metaphors to a variety of software problems the less they are preoccupied with building large amounts of unnecessary muscle in their ability to decode patterns via spatial cognition.
Here’s who I think is right.
Apple and Microsoft are both on this different voyage of discovery and both are likely to create havoc on the end user base around which is better option of the two – digitally authentic or digitally unauthentic.
It doesn’t matter in the end who wins as given both have created this path it’s fair to say that an average user out there is now going to be tuned into both creative output(s). As such there is no such thing as a virgin user when it comes to these design models.
I would however say out loud that I think when it comes to down cognitive load on the end user around which Application(s) out there that opt for a Metro vs. Apple iPad like solution, the iPad should by rights win that argument.
The reason being is our ability to scan the associated pattern with the faux design model works to the end user favor much the same way it does when you 30sec of a hacker busting their way into the mainframe.
The faux design approach will work for depth engagement but here’s the funny and wonderful thought that I think will fester beyond this post for many.
Ever notice the UI designs in movies opt for a flat “metro” like monochrome existence that at first you go “oh my that’s amazing CG!”. Yet if you then play with it for long period of time their wow factor begins to taper off fast.
I don’t have the answers on either sides here and it’s all based of my own opinion and second-hand research. I can tell you though sex sells, we do judge a book by its cover, and I think what makes the iPad apps appeal too many is simply – attractive bias in full flight.
Before I leave with that last thought, I will say that over time I’ve seen quite a lot of iPad applications use Wood textures throughout their designs. I’d love to explore the phycology of why that reoccurs more as I wonder if it has to do with some primitive design DNA of some sort.
Over the past week I’ve been quite busy writing a Product Strategy for a mining consultancy who today has a very specific niche offering here in Australia. The company is for me personally a fun place to be in, despite the weirdness of working for the mining industry (if you’re going to innovative UX, trust me, mining companies have the investment and vision to allow it).
The reason I like this gig and the work that we do is we are essentially focused on a market or idea around what the mining industry should look like from a geological standpoint over the next x-years. Loads of data that need user experience driven solutions to help unravel it.
I won’t go into details about what specifically the above means (as with this company, I actually have an NDA this time 🙂 ), suffice to say we are focused and in the course of writing this strategy combined with the constant RSS feeds over the last 72hrs about Steve Jobs that it hit me what makes Apple such a powerful force today.
They are focused.
Looking at Apple’s website, you see they are in a number of products but the more you look at each individual product and how they relate to one another it’s clear there is a coherent strategy in place. There is still a case of multiple threads flowing at once yet they are still interconnected at some point.
I look at the iPhone and then look at the Macbook’s on offer and one can sit back and easily assume that the iPhone is an extension of the Macbook that the idea is to get you into the iPhone ownership whilst then bait you into the desktop solution there after – it just works right?
Everything in Apple orbits the iPhone, its realistically today the center of all products that Apple produce’s gravity, it’s clear to me personally they are focused on a strategy – how well the retain custody of this vision or strategy with the passing of Steve Jobs is yet to be written, suffice to say they have one of the best foundations to build from.
I observe often just how focused Apple.com has become as a website, every line of text, every picture right down to the consistency in design seems to say “we have an idea, wouldn’t it be cool…”
To put it in perspective on the influence, I watched a colleague of mine – better to not name him – design Microsoft.com/web (which imho kills on all Microsoft.com sites). I watched him sit down and do everything in his power to avoid opening Apple.com and it’s not because he hates Apple or drinks the Microsoft kool aid, quite the opposite he’s at heart a pure designer – one of the best I know – he avoided opening it because he wanted to beat it because he appeared to want to put Microsoft’s best foot forward and not have a site like Apple overshadow it.
He had a lot of fools in his way, but he navigated the mess with class and kept a strategic focus on a simple principle – user experience first around the products he managed.
My point is this, Apple and Microsoft are opposite from one another, we all get that but if one thing about writing my 8th Product Strategy and living by the a sense of “focus on the user experience and work your way back” has taught me, that at times you just need the Bill Gates, Steve Jobs etc of this corporate focused discipline we call the software industry to just do what they do best and stop crowding them with bullshit and have a point or focus.
Microsoft, Adobe and even Google just seem to have this scatter shot approached to product strategy & marketing.
Personally, it’s quite frustrating to just watch given their huge amount of potential they have? We should have 10 Steve Jobs personas in our industry with the same level of UX focus for a brand? That’s what people are probably the most down about in his passing – who’s going to lead us now?
I’m not one to subscribe to celebs etc., but today Steve Jobs dying did leave me a pondering the power of how one person made such a huge impact.
I have heaps of positive / negative stories about Apple etc., but the one that stands out the most is the day the iPhone 3Gs was released in the US.
On that day, I was on Microsoft campus after working through the night on a project – cannot remember what the project was – and it was around 7am I decided to call it a day. I shut down my computer and remembered that this was the day Apple was going to release their new phone, I wanted one because I still had my Australian iPhone but figured I can wait until next month when all the madness dies down.
I got in my red 2010 mustang (loved that car), pulled out of Building 17 and drove towards my house in Sammamish only I figured I’d swing past the local Redmond AT&T store to see if there were any Apple nutters lining up as maybe because the store is so close to Microsoft campus there won’t be as many people queuing up (Microsoft internally was very weird around Apple hardware ownership as you can imagine).
I slowly drove down the main street towards the railway line and there it was a queue that ran all the way around the block and then some. Looking more closely I noticed a few familiar Microsoft faces and could see heaps of blue tagged swipe cards attached to peoples belts like some weird Texas ranger police badge.
I smiled, we compete daily with Apple but here inside the heartland of Microsoft there were staffers queued up like the rest of the stores around the US all keen to get their hands on the iPhone 3Gs.
I later heard a rumor that over 30,000 Microsoft staffers per day used iPhones to connect to their emails.
This phone came from the creation of many at Apple, Steve Jobs was their leader and maybe he was the ideas man but in the end it took teams of people to execute on those ideas. The man not only made an impact on my career and continues to do so, but I watched an entire company take deep collective breathes at nearly every WDDC, I watched internal mailing lists fire up and lots of internal debates around how “Apple are copying us” and “Steve Jobs is <insert negative/positive comments here>” and even today as I watch my wife struggle to force herself into an optimism bias fueled acceptance of the Windows Phone 7 she holds in her hands whilst staring at my iPhone4 with envy – you just can’t but help this was a moment in my lifetime that I probably won’t see in a hurry – the man died, can you believe that? Isn’t he some kind of immortal tech geek god personality?
Today, I own 3xMacbook Pros, 4x Apple TVs, 3x iPods, 4x iPhones, 2xiPad, 1x iMac and next week I’ll also own the iPhone 4S (aka iPhone 4 Steve). I buy these products because they inspire me creatively not through their unique designs but how others add to the design(s). I care less about the Mac culture and I spend a fortune on Apple daily to the point where it annoys the hell out of me at how expensive it is to be a customer of the brand.
Simply put, I find little to complain about and I agree with most of what Steve Jobs has done in the past and the way he’s set us up for the future.
I look at the iPhone Siri and just think to myself – that is really cool? Like if it can do as the ads say it can, this is going to be a game changer for business women/men worldwide. The camera looks amazing and that’s enough for me to drop $799 AUD next week.
Everyone else’s reaction was “meh”.
How far have we come today where there is a phone that has the potential to take on the role of Ironman JARVIS like intelligence that we turn and just throw down and have a technology tantrum?
Steve Jobs not only influenced me on an industrial design & interface level but I look at my 3D portfolio and often catch myself daydreaming about what it would be like to work at PIXAR – a company I’d often joke about “leaving my wife and kids to work for” with a friend of mine who used to play sport with my family every Saturday in Seattle who used to work for PIXAR.
I don’t subscribe to celebrity nonsense, but with this guy, I was hooked like a school girl watching a Justin Beiber concert.
Today, the myth of the man got bigger whilst the enemy of mediocrity got one leader shorter.
I hold Microsoft to high standard and will beat them up often over it and have a mixed result around success but I do so because of guys like Steve Jobs. The dude’s a fucking legend – enuf said.
I stumbled upon a blog post that I think should be titled - Genius is non-transferable. Nice up beat post about the influence of one Mr Steve Jobs and how his departure is affecting the future of Apple via a thought inspiring post.
This got me thinking about the day Bill Gates officially retired from Microsoft. I was on campus at the time and I remember everyone that I was near talked about this moment and there was a weird vibe around confidence levels. Most brushed his departure as the old guy has left the building, he didn’t do much anyway these days? Others who were more senior and seasoned didn’t follow this thread of thinking. Instead, they were more conservative and gave lofty responses like “we’ll see..” hinting that we as a company have only just began a journey of success vs. failure ahead.
Today, Amazon has setup shop right near Microsoft and recently the company lost or was expected to lose over 3,000+ staff to the ….online bookseller? storage in the cloud? company?. …Google, Facebook etc. have also setup shop just outside the borders of Redmond as well with I’m sure equal numbers of the 3,000 likely to occur as well.
How does the Amazon staff hiring blitz have anything to do with the topic at hand? Its simple for the first time in the history of Microsoft not only does the company have just as rich competitors today, but they also have their medium level competitors parked outside their village. This is a small but equally important issue as now not only is Microsoft HR departments on notice that they need to improve their metrics around success and fail but it also has a significant impact on the quality bands of their products (ie key staff leaving? Good or bad? Depends…)
Pre-Bill Gates departure, Microsoft was still a chaotic organization filled with typical large enterprise issues but it in turn was kept in check by a guy who remember outsmarted the beloved Steve Jobs on a number of business related tactics over the years. You worked hard to outsmart Bill in the organization and he did have a cultural impact on staff – prime example, ThinkWeek Papers.
Post Bill Gates, well products aren’t doing that great other than Windows 7 but in reality Windows7’s success is really a false positive given if you remove Windows XP from the market and force business/consumers down a path – it’s what I’d call a duress driven success.
You have a staff exodus problem occurring and furthermore you have no cohesive strategy around marketing products that at the end of the day are technically well built – Microsoft’s always had a marketing issue never really a technical one.
Windows 8 Predictions
This is going to give people their Microsoft high for the year, then in the following September 2012, he’s going to come back and officially release this to the world thus removing MIX Online from our memories for ever more.
While this is happening he’s then going to spend energy & time building out the desktop concept of Windows as we know it today whilst factoring in the disruption of Windows8 Device / ARM Operating system and its effects on the market.
Apple in turn are going to spend a lot more budget / cycles now to rebuild confidence now that Mr Jobs has stepped down for what we all know now sadly, health reasons. Inside Microsoft they will see this as a moment of weakness, the beloved General has fallen – storm the gates, hard and fast.
This is a software storm of under qualified sugar overloaded officers at best who are going to promise us the world, the future of a brilliant tomorrow when it comes to vNext Software.
The underlying impact here for all of you to consider and the moment in which I personally just shake my head and sigh.
There’s no Steve Jobs and Bill Gates anymore, just punks who think they have the capabilities that these old warhorses once had.
These two didn’t accidently impact our lives worldwide in a once off streak of luck, they had consistent measure of success over the years in everything they did and we in turn backed their abilities in one way or another.
We had confidence.
Today, you look at the landscape of software companies and what they are all busy right now pushing and pulling the industry into what it should be and you have to ask yourself a simple question?
Are you confident we are on the right path now? If that answers no, kind of or not stacking into the majority of “Yes” column. Then we have a problem and future CEO’s like mini-Steve may think he’s got the winning formula but in truth, he’s been too busy copying Steve Jobs/Bill Gates homework he’s not taken time to learn from what they’ve failed and succeeded at.
Inside Microsoft, watch guys like Scott Guthrie as whilst everyone is running towards Windows 8 / Windows Phone 7 gravy train(s), he’s walking towards Azure, a spot where you can easily hide for a while and let the mob fall on top of each other over Windows 8 / Windows 7 device rush.
Mark my words, he’s the one you should all keep an eye on as he has potential to one day become the next Bill Gates / Steve Jobs for Microsoft or maybe a competitor should he jump ship to?(minus the creative part of course).
Ask not what Microsoft can do for you but what you can do for Microsoft. That's really the inspiring quote that President of the new colonization group - aka Windows - needs to say to the unwashed masses of tomorrow.
Microsoft is taking on a mission that looks to go beyond the moon, they want to land on Jupiter and it will be done with Apollo. Still confused?
If you've not paid attention to all the codenames flying about the place you'd be forgiven to be confused as there's a space theme happening and with these code names its quite interesting to see how the objectives for the next generation of Microsoft is likely to shape up.
Jupiter is rumored to be the reset button to Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and Silverlight. A reset is the latest suspicion as just yesterday I found out that the XAML ethos within Microsoft has been disbanded and set to various corners of the company. Some went to Internet Explorer team, some went to Windows teams and others went to Google, Amazon and Facebook.
Why disband the teams? It is time for pencils down folks, let us stop piling on code for the existing stuff but now let us set our sights for the future, let's be bold. Let us be daring. Why land on the moon when you can land on Jupiter floating on a cloud of Azure? (Ok, I lost myself in that metaphor as well).
Ok fine, I have gone through the seven stages of Silverlight/WPF grief and I am at acceptance I think.
In order to better prepare for the mission ahead, let us think about the various things we need to account for prior to launch (September).
Replace Crew Members.
Inside Microsoft there is a lot of toxic turmoil going due to internal re-orgs (which is fairly common) that fueled with how the Global Financial Crisis has affected employees etc. it's no secret that Microsoft are losing some quite influential and dare I say, hard to replace staff to places like Google, Facebook, Amazon and so on. I personally know of three employees who have hated working for Microsoft for quite some time but have been stuck due to housing prices in Redmond etc not being ready enough for a resale - that is - until Google, Adobe, Facebook and soon Amazon have campuses of their own in Seattle.
Now the super geeks have alternative employment options. Microsoft is now on notice, treat me better or I will leave. The later choice has been winning in my opinion and the more the new found employees have sent me messages of "Omg, its way better over here than Microsoft" which has to be salt in some current employee's wounds whom are likely staring down the barrel of uncertainty in the company given its end of year commitment scoring mixed with the demise of what we used to call the Silverlight/WPF & Blend ethos. What to do!.
A gentleman and fellow .NET scholar Jose has done the best he could in reverse engineering Direct UI (rumored to be the leaked incarnation of Jupiter). He has some insights that are both great and disappointing at the same time. The great part is it could very well be the next iteration of what has to come in the landscape of C# and XAML for tomorrow's UX Pioneers.
The downside is its 3-5 or maybe more steps backwards in the current feature parity you have all eagerly waited for over the past 4 years. There are some fundamentals in the room whilst there are concerns around some of the other features that may or may not make the cut for version one.
If I know Microsoft and I like to think I do, this is likely to be yet another one of those traditional "version 1" moments whereby the team(s) behind the product eventually stumble across the finish line, exhausted but barely breathing enough to shout "Give me feedback on what you want in version 2, it will be better I promise" followed by some metaphor about how it's a marathon and not sprint to the finish line (We got great mileage out of that with Silverlight and I dare say you could get a few more products out of it yet).
The tooling is likely to be not in place during this version 1 lifecycle as my sources tell me that the Blend Team aren't cranking out the vNext improved world of Microsoft. I know Steve Sinofsky has had a few ambitions about what the Tooling should look like in the perfect world of Windows vNext frontier and I am guessing he did not play well with others in the Devdiv team(s) to share such ambitions.
That being said, either there is a skunk works tooling team hidden in some random building in Microsoft that others do not know about or the tooling story behind this next frontier is unlikely to be in place before Sept or for whenever this next version of our beloved Silverlight/WPF ethos occurs.
What I mean to say is welcome all to Microsoft 2005. Hold onto your Winforms or ASP.NET MVC for a little bit longer and for those of you in Silverlight/WPF investment land(s) - try to not focus on the future but the now (best to keep your code base as lean as possible and not to tightly wound in client-side logic).
Put vital organs into Escrow.
Microsoft are quick to throw technology at a problem first and then ponder as to why the problem existed. I've often personally seen strategies - wait, that's not correct, strategy requires forward thinking - tactical decisions (better) made around trying to grow developer audiences.
The assumption are
"ok, we're not making our tech palatable enough, lets steal stuff from Ruby On Rails, Apple or Oracle to make it better".
The absolute harsh reality is often a lot of non-Microsoft customer(s) etc. just don't like Microsoft (Ever liked a girl/guy and they don't like you back? You try changing your clothes, hair, car etc. and still nothing. Welcome to the Microsoft Developer outreach program, you will fit right in).
The other side of this coin I guess is those of you who adore Microsoft for what they are. You spend thousands of your own dollars to go to various events to listen to Microsoft confuse the absolute crap out of you. The problem is lately, they seem to be a company you just cannot bet on for the future.
Grandiose plans to land on Jupiter may be bold, daring and exciting but is it dependable? Can this company commit to a master plan and is this a plan or just a tactical political brain dump mixed with a lot of Microsoft experimentation.
Is it a case now of not waiting for the next Service Pack but now waiting to see if a product can get past version 3 and 5 before you really consider it as a viable option of the future?
In order to prepare for this next mission, someone has to donate some good will to the fans of Microsoft technology. That means you cannot stick to the ye olde "need to know information" mentality. You got to bring your roadmap(s) for the future and you got to show us that you're telling the truth that you want to aim for Jupiter and not some closer planet or worse - the unknown void beyond Jupiter.
Commit and stop being assclowns.
Commit to us so that we may commit to you. No more lies, No more "I've got a secret, can you guess!" and lastly no more internal political child play spilling over and into the blogosphere. It's time to be a big boy company and use big boy strategies with big boy plans mixed with a lot of big girl personality (somehow that did the ladies no favors).
If we are to take on this mission, it's time for a smarter playbook around transparency and if Steve Sinofsky is willing to bring the "come to Jesus" moment for the company around consolidating the entire product lines into a consistent continuous experience across all devices with a developer/designer experience to boot. Great, I personally will print out a t-shirt that says "I'm back in team Steve" (heh my old team inside Microsoft was called Team Steve...Steve the manager though was a arrogant jerk, different story, different time).
Right now its just a case of me holding up a really sick puppy that others have kicked and telling you all about the neglect its owners have given it. (If I quote that metaphor I was given last night by a friend).
I almost always am asked "What does a Product Manager do?" whenever people read my previous title. It is one of these titles within the industry that depending on which brand you belong to has different meanings.
The industry way.
Inside Microsoft it varies, you could be the source of power or you could simply be a reactive title that is less Management and more Marketing. What I mean to say is, inside Microsoft a Product Manager can often simply be a Product Marketer whereby they wait until the Program Manager's decide the features and then the Product Management / Marketing team go to work in communicating the features to the masses.
It takes on a somewhat reactive role as in the end the Product Manager's main priority is to convince the Program Manager(s) to add xyz features to their engineering "things I need to build list". If that can't succeed then you try alternate routes by going to concepts like Product Unit Managers, Vice Presidents or General Manager(s) - basically from my own experience inside Microsoft it can be a game of "Lord of the Flies" - figure out who has the conch and do as much as you can in terms of convincing them with data / opinion sooner rather than later.
Outside Microsoft, I have found that to be different, for example recently I have had some chats with Apple around how they do product management and it was interesting to hear that the person(s) in that role (kind of) are the one-stop shop of the power seat. Engineering don't do a thing unless there is a market to sell the features to in that the Product Manager(s) role is to figure out what's basically a sellable feature based on market data (need vs. want, differentiation and so on). I have also heard rumors that this is how Adobe does things as well (be curious to see how Google run the show, but given their strong DNA of ex-Microsofties me thinks the Microsoft way of life may propagate upstream).
I am yet to really pin down specifically how the correct formula works here as again, each brand has their own unique perspective on the role. My thinking, mainly because I am arrogant - you are doing it wrong.
The Barnes / Mad Men way.
A colleague of mine had this brilliant way of explaining how he'd setup a team for his start-up and he called it "Mike's Eleven" (aka Ocean's Eleven). Each person brings a unique attribute to the team that helps you rob people. You do not bring in a person to the team unless they can really contribute. I like to think of this in much the way of my favorite TV show - Mad Men.
The Don Drapper (aka Director)
This person is like Mad Men's Don Draper, smooth talking has brilliant insights into the way marketing engines work and lastly knows how to keep a steady but calming influence over the others. I'd highly recommend this person at least have an MBA - whilst as douche as that sounds - but this degree isn't as easy as people think to get and lastly it brings a lot of Wikipedia of marketing to the table (whilst mostly theory based). If this person is marketing your product as if it was Soup and not Software, you may get some left field thinking into the equation. Hiring an ex-engineer to be your Don Draper is useless, as they cannot think creatively / laterally most of the time - given the OCD / problem solving skills they have already tuned.
The Roger Sterling (aka Community / Client Liaison)
This character in Mad Men has a famous quote in the TV series - "Let me put it in account terms, do you know how many hand jobs I have to give to fix what you've just done?"
That is a quote worth remembering when it comes to your Community liaison person(s). These people have one goal and that is to figure out what the client(s) or customer(s) want the most. They play a game of contact sport, whereby they are rarely in the office and are constantly out in the field getting insights into how the product is shaping up each version you produce. This role is expensive, but worth it provided they are steered in the right direction (it's not all about hotels and bar tabs).
The goals for this person is to firstly create rock stars, do not be the one in the room on stage find others to put on stage to evangelize your product(s). They also need to avoid conferences as much as they can and instead meat businesses at their front door. You do not learn a lot from meeting the same people repeatedly at the same conferences but you do learn a lot when you sit in on a technology decision-making meeting inside a random mining, finance, medical or start-up company in blah country.
They are your socialite and spy in one.
The Lane Pryce / Paul Kinsey (aka Domain Experts).
You need someone in the room who is your in-house engineer. This person will work with your non-technical minds to come up with a simplified way of approaching the set of features you want to build. Let us face it some features in most software are left field in either complexity or mickey mouse go no-where thinking. The Technical side kicks figures out ways to make the feature work kind of your early prototype but more so they are looking at it from a pragmatic perspective.
Say the Don Draper & Roger Sterling want to build a concept whereby the software can do facial recognition to avoid Security logins for PC's of tomorrow. Now their job is to determine if there is a market for it and you trust that they have done their homework. The technical sidekick now needs to look at the feature from the developers perspective, they need to sit down and dream up the idle way a developer should approach this (so it's kind of part User Experience Imaginer as well). They look at it from the angle of setting goals for the engineering team to meet the marketing team half way on.
No more over complicated API that go nowhere and lastly no more tooling that makes you want to scream at the product(s) and you soon forget the benefits of the feature (I'm looking at you Deep Zoom, WCF and a whole heap more).
Having this equation also stops science projects spilling over online, where everyone is looking confused and thinking "oh must be for someone else as I so don't need that feature at all" from occurring. It's a balance struck much like rock paper scissors (each role trumps the other).
The Salvatore "Sal" Romano (ak Artist).
This person should have a portfolio of design that makes you dreamy eyed with envy. The point is this person is your polish to the spin you put out and it's their job to figure out what looks good and what isn't. Once you figure out what you want to build and how you want to market it, you need a person in the room who can manage your media / design agency vendors and with an attention to detail the goes beyond color preferences.
Most of Microsoft's "viral videos" look cheesy, over worked, over bought and under delivered. The reason being is you rarely have someone in the room who thinks creatively. This person goes to art galleries because they want to see art or they like the Apple iPhone because of its Industrial Design characteristics and not because it has Angry birds.
This person keeps your presentation skills in check and through the guidance of the team will make sure you come off looking polished.
Look at World of Warcraft's website; this is a amazingly well designed site for a game. Now look at other game websites, the difference is the experience. The point here is someone in the room is keeping a close eye on design decisions being made and ensuring the brand is putting best foot forward.
The same can be said for Apple vs. Microsoft. Apple have a centralized polished look to the way their make products online - Microsoft looks like someone figured out how to remake Geocities but for corporate reasons.
Just like in Mad Men, Sal is the person who knows good design when he sees it.
The Peggy Olsen (aka PR / Copywriter).
This can be an important but healthy addition to the team(s). If you are going to manage a product, make sure you have someone in the room who can write a sentence that does not look like my blog - full of spelling and grammar errors.
This person's job is to make sure you do not screw up online and say stupid stuff - especially when dealing with your competitors. They also handle your press and announcements with keen focus on what needs to be said and when/how. They work closely with Art & Technical to ensure the message they position is correct and is not full of fluff / waffle that goes nowhere.
They also need to be edited as much as they can by the Don Draper's & Roger Sterling's to ensure that the message / copy they produce is not talking at the audience(s) but with them.
Recently Microsoft said Windows 8 and HTML5 in the same breathe which lead to a lot of questions around .NET's future. Had a Peggy been in the room this would of not happened, as letting a VP go on stage like that solo is just showing off. You need to get that person on stage, do their message drops but also have an entire campaign of media ready to drop in behind it to underpin the messages and points you want made across the globe.
Steve Jobs gets on stage does his thing but the moment he drops announcements there is media everywhere to support it at the same time in parallel.
Having a good PR person working closely with press is important as well and they need to be devoted and focused to a product (not someone you bring in on/off again). They are also your lawyer in a room full of press as you let them figure out the ways to handle aggressive and passive journalists (News flash, sometimes Journalists are so lazy you can almost write the story for them whilst some are the ones you try as best you can to play a game of high stakes poker with).
That is my thinking of how Product Management should work, it is not really one person it is a team of entities all working in a tight unit much like a game of rock paper scissors. You need to market a product to the masses but you also need to figure out what the masses need vs. want whilst at the same time coming up with features and ideas that they aren't expecting.
There is no such thing as a separation between Inbound and Outbound marketing, its bulls**t. It is both directions at the same time and engineering need to listen up and listen well. Your jobs are to take the bright crazy dumbass ideas and figure out ways to make it happen, as you now need to reverse engineer the imagination it took to think up.
There is a consistent theme that I often see when I have been invited into conversation(s) regarding Windows 8 and the whole HTML5 saga. The main undercurrent is "Why would they do that?" and it is a perfectly valid question that often gets lost in the whole opinion / news pieces that are floating around.
Understand the metrics first.
Inside Microsoft you are really goaled around a metric that involves the words "market share" in that somewhere along those lines your entire reason for drawing a pay cheque distills down to that. You have to help Microsoft grow its market share across all battlefields and there are multiple battlefields in play.
Battles are what are happening in today's software industry. It is quite competitive and cutthroat in many places and often mercy is for the weak. Companies on both sides often play by the rules governing ethics but often more so than ever it is not the case under the covers or behind closed doors. There are often many tactics at work that the audience(s) and customer(s) do not always see.
For instance, when Silverlight/Expression was heating up in the early days the battle between Adobe and Microsoft was quite intense (I myself was caught up in it quit easily). You'd have situations where Adobe would threaten to shut down a conference if Microsoft Staff showed or you'd have Adobe specifically target Microsoft showcase wins the next year and spend large amounts of $$ to win the customers back to create the perception that these customers had buyer's remorse.
Apple, Google, IBM and Oracle all suffer from the same somewhat software industry driven guerrilla warfare style tactics. It is a competitive sport and staff within get quite emotional and aggressive at times about it - like a thunder dome of super geeks.
Tactical approaches and competitive aggression is what fuels Microsoft often. It has also to answer the question you have around "Why would they do that" simply put; it is about building an army primarily.
Understand the Tactical Programs
You have programs in play like BizSpark - an idea to give the software away for free in order to seed start-ups into adopting the Microsoft technology stack. It is the old heroin addiction formula at work, in that the first hits free but the second and third will cost you. Ensure an addiction takes place then the monetization will follow.
Understand the Compete motions
The thing though is this playbook or this strategy is in no way different to the days when .NET was first created and it is again a rinse/repeat formula being played out.
The motivation is growth around developer share (that is an obvious objective around winning) the other objectives are also around competing head to head with Google & Apple. Google is the main focus though, this company is taking bodies from Microsoft staff lines often and if you were to look at the past two years around who's left the .NET development teams as well as the Internet Explorer teams for Google it's almost alarming.
Google don't need to compete with Microsoft, they just need to re-hire their staff and I often giggle about this as I once wrote an internal memo regarding Adobe compete whereby I said "We should make a $300k a year offer to their entire evangelism staff to work for us, we say here's $300k now go sit in the park and enjoy life for the next 2 years as it would be cheaper than what we spending on compete for Adobe".
Google are kind of doing that in many ways.
Understanding the gullibility.
Google played Microsoft and it is this small random pocket of competitive insights that often go unnoticed in the industry. These small little gems of "hah that was funny" all add up to the situation we see before us today around why Windows 8 looks and is likely to act in the way it is.
There is no real strategy here, just tactical competitive reactions played out that do not often give pause to the massive impacts it places on the hordes of developers who wear the Microsoft logo on their blogs / resumes etc. with pride.
Microsoft is doing a terrible job at corporate communication(s) and the most frustrating part of all is that it is the actual fans of the brand that are noticing the most.
That is probably a small glimpse at how a competitive situation can motive product lines into making snap decisions the way they have been in the past five years. The reality is you the customer out there who use the technology actually play somewhat a smaller role than you do think around feature selection and roadmaps for product designs.
It's often a competitive influence that drives the most decisions and sure compete leads to innovation right and that's something we should all embrace - except if the tax is instability.
For a deeper insight into this topic around “Why” Listen to a podcast I did list week titled “Windows 8 Round Table” via TalkingShop DownUnder.
No Aesthetic Differentiation.Stating that is bold and a bit of an eyebrow raiser, as clearly the Metro UI is different to the rest right? Not really, as you are probably looking at this through the lens of a TechEd T-Shirt wearing c# ninja aka Microsoft "aware" perspective. The reality is if you go into a mobile store of any kind around the world, you just have to stare at the buffet of phones on display and cannot really help but notice one thing. They all seem to look kind of like the iPhone in terms of shape - keep in mind we humans are pattern people, we seek patterns first and then adjust to what the pattern is second. If all the phones have similar shapes then what does that say? Does it feel like an iPhone knockoff? It has the similar price tag. So why pay for a copy of a popular device when you can have the real thing? Assuming you get past that train of thought let us look at it from a different perspective. You are in the store, you get excited over the initial 10seconds of "Wow, nice UI" moment(s). The more you use it, the more you start thinking "meh, what kind of apps does this thing have?" so now you have to grasp the concept of the Zune Marketplace - assuming you're outside of the US and the brand Zune is "What the freaking hell is a Zune?" moment(s). How do you grasp Zune Marketplace while in a store? You click on Marketplace but nothing happens as most phones have no internet connection(s) in stores. I have seen many a "marketplace" on the ye olde phones that were run by carriers so what makes this different to those as again who is Zune? What apps do you have and do you have Angry Birds? Skype? Foursquare? Facebook (yes its built in, but are others outside the Microsoft sphere of influence aware of this?) etc?
Too consistent & poor quality bands.The differentiation is one thing but then comes the moment of too much consistency. All of the applications tend to blur into being the same old cookie cut style. There is not a real sense of change or theming in place other than games. Today's twitter application looks like a thousand other twitter applications aside from some color changes. There is no real sense of depth and whilst the team has pushed for "authentically digital" which is a noble gesture in the art scene, it is but one lacking in the consumer space. To put it another way, If I have a voice recording "memo" style application then please make it look like a recording application (i.e. iPhone uses this big Microsoft and it takes on this "theme" of being the app). There are some diamonds in the rough when it comes to the marketplace, not all are bad - most are though. All it takes is any C# developer with some developer muscle and a lame brain idea around FlashLight, Twitter, Task list or Tip Calculator and pretty much soon you have a saturated idea brimming to the surface of applications made available to you for purchasing. The quality baseline for success in the market is measured around quantity not quality. iPhone is no different much like Android, the difference with those phones however is they aren't the ones struggling to convince people that their old version isn't the same as you see before you in the new version(s). They don't have as big of a hill to climb back out of and arguing mediocrity in quality bands as an excuse as to why is plain stupid. There is no switch up inside the phone, all apps tend to become the same look and feel repeatedly - so my point is this is not just a phone it's a media device that should be filled with brainless eye candy as much as functional brilliance. Let the audience decide if Authentically Digital compositions are their cup of tea but forcing all to bow down to this mentality is simply locking you into a bubble of ignorance.
Dance with the girl you came with.Consumers are morons, and are easily tricked if you have a brilliant strategy. Urban legend of Colgate guy wanting to increase toothpaste sales that tried everything but in the end all he did was increase the diameter of the hole in which toothpaste pours out of by 3mm in the end sent sales through the roof (given we used more toothpaste unwittingly). It is a story I was told in my days of Marketing 101 training, but it stuck with me for obvious reason(s) - hopefully. Microsoft is so preoccupied with "beating" the other guy (and we used to drink that compete rage elixir often) that its lost perspective on the places its getting success - Business/Enterprise. Go into a govt department, large mining company, finance sector the whole thing and ask them how they are coping with business related devices such as PDA's and wanting field staff to do xyz. You would be surprised at the response you get - especially how iPhones, Androids and Windows Phone 7 are not even in the race. The reason being is simple - "How does one deploy a private app to my citizens?" The reality is Microsoft's spent the lion share of its marketing spend on US Consumers hoping that this like some kind of weird end of year Xbox style achievements metrics "Congratulations! You have Achieved Level 1 in sales!" moment(s). Inside Australia for example the WP7 Marketing is a secret? As its rare you catch glimpses of its existence outside a mobile store and even then you have Windows Phone7 Logo right beside Windows Phone 6 devices. Confused? I was. The win here while it may not be loud (which sadly gets you career points in Microsoft) is that if Microsoft released an Enterprise follow-on with the WP7 devices focused on allowing draconian SOE overlords to brick the phones in such a way that forces its peon's to adhere to the blah blah policy then you in turn would have a backdoor into consumer market. The reason being is these are human beings the phones are being handed to during work hours. The more they use them, the more the grow accustom and forgiving towards the device you are giving your crack away via corporate mandates. Establishing a habitual usage amongst the business/enterprise community in turn creates natural evangelism, which in turn can either make or break you (if its crap phones it will be very loud as to why). If you are in a meeting and you see many WP7 phones in the room, you cannot but help notice them - that is what they call "product placement" in marketing terms and you get it free amongst the business community. Nobody is doing this right now, and I've witnessed thousands upon thousands of units of HP IPAQ like devices running Windows Mobile 6.5 as a result (right now I'm staring at a body of work I'll need to work on soon in this space, simply because no Wp7 device is available for commercial usage).
Competitions are an act of marketing desperation.I was once told inside Microsoft that if you get to a point where you are running a competition to excite developers around a product, you have failed. It is the last desperate refuge for a marketing to try to regain some lost momentum around marketing a product that really needed more than a "Win a new phone?" moment(s). When I was doing my interviews for Product Manager on the Silverlight team, my bosses boss (Dave Mendlen) asked me how I would handle a competition etc for a product if had $50k to spend? I guess he wanted to see me break it down into its overall pieces etc. My response was simple
"I'd take the $50k, put up a 1x Page website and simply give away a CAR in any country around the world for the best and fairest blah blah".My point was simple; competitions suck firstly so I would rather get this fool's errand out of the way upfront. Secondly, if you are going to have competitions then go big or go home. Don't pussyfoot around with $1k or below offerings, you want competition right? You want people to take notice and work hard to fight to the finish then put a carrot that is big enough that it feels both reachable and enriching at once. I see way to many competitions for developers to write xyz Windows Phone App around lately and it's just sad to watch. Microsoft needs to raise its game and seed the product in much smarter ways then weak competition tactics. Evangelism needs to be smarter and the marketing spend / product placement campaigns need to be better than it is today. Seeing a Windows Phone 7 on a TV show is a good start but it lacks follow-up(s). If I go to a geek conference of any kind I want to see Wp7 branding everywhere but I also want to see someone doing something interesting with the phone(s). I want sizzle and holding creations as if the one Brandon Foy hostage to "If you get 200k+ views I'll let you do a commercial for real" is like asking Don Draper to audition for entry-level copywriter. You had talent in front of you and you still missed it.