Apple, Microsoft, big tech push UI changes: Whining is futile

Apple, Microsoft, big tech push UI changes: Whining is futile

Summary: With the exception of Google, Microsoft, BlackBerry and Apple had to take a stab at a redesign for various reasons. The risk of doing nothing was too great.

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Apple's iOS 7 is either a sweet-looking mobile operating system that will drive iPhone and iPad demand in the future, or an effort that borrows design cues from rival platforms and will confuse people. The only certainty is that technology companies are increasingly putting themselves at risk of consumer blowback by making changes to user interfaces.

Consider:

  • Windows 8 was a dramatic user interface departure, as was Windows Phone. The design revolution from Microsoft, which should at the very least get credit for being ballsy, didn't pay off in PC or tablet sales. Windows 8.1 brings back the Start button and refines the effort. Debate: Can Windows 8.1 re-start Windows 8? | A closer look at what's new in Windows 8.1
  • Google has stepped up its Android user interface game in recent years. CEO Larry Page often uses words like "smooth" and "beautiful" to talk up new user design features. Android has market share, but wouldn't be called an elegant operating system by many. However, items like Google Now, its personal assistant, show strong design and user experience chops.
  • Apple's iOS 7 takes a few design cues from Android and Windows Phone. Apple didn't rip anyone off, but its approach certainly rhymes with other mobile platforms out there. Some folks like Joshua Topolsky find it confusing. Also: Apple's iOS 7: Plenty to spur an upgrade cycle
  • BlackBerry 10 gave life to the BlackBerry franchise. There were some innovative tweaks included, but some of the BlackBerry faithful had to learn new OS tricks. Also: Two-thirds of BlackBerry converts tempted to return by Q10.

With the exception of Google, Microsoft, BlackBerry and Apple had to take a redesign stab for various reasons. The risk of doing nothing was too great. Apple didn't dramatically tweak iOS for 6 years before outlining iOS 7 and it generally showed. Apple also needed something to talk about because its hardware cadence is slower than what Wall Street wants. Apple's unveiling of iOS 7 puts lead design guru Jony Ive's stamp on its mobile software and gives customers something to talk about as they wait for new hardware.

More: Apple's iOS 7 hands-on, in pictures (gallery) | Dare Apple move the cheese with iOS 7?

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These dueling tech vendors have no choice but to push the design envelope as they try to gain some advantage. The problem: The OS on the mobile front is increasingly about services. Apple has had its cloud struggles. Google has an upper hand with its ad and cloud model. Microsoft has a few winning cloud and services parts. Amazon basically did an Android overhaul with the primary purpose of driving commerce and services. In the end, the OS needs to get you to services — especially via mobile devices — as hardware on the mobile front becomes more of the same.

Given the fact that these mobile interfaces all have to do roughly the same thing, it's no surprise that they are all starting to look similar, if not completely blend together.

What's the challenge? Customers of an established product loath change. That inability to change is why some folks are still using Windows XP. Rest assured that some folks will cry for an iOS classic once iOS 7 leaves beta. Change is uncomfortable — especially when something like the Start button in Windows feels like a comfy old pair of shoes.

In the end, these tech giants are trying to play a game of leap frog and capture customers' collective imagination. Given hardware is commoditized, software and experience are the best options to differentiate. The big hurdle is that these tech players are forcing changes that users may not necessarily want.

Topics: Software Development, Android, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Mobility, Windows 8

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107 comments
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  • Driving Users To Linux And Android

    Luckily, there are still computer platforms that treat their users with respect, and give them a choice about how to do things.
    ldo17
    • While I share your enthusiasm

      Too much choice, along with too much configuration work in some cases, is not good either. Besides, Ubuntu made UI changes with use backlash as well.

      What we need in Linux is One UI To Rule Them All.
      happyharry_z
      • No one linux-desktop

        I disagree, I like the choice in one system for different desktops, only linux has that.
        janvl
        • Agree with janvl

          I agree -- I had to abandon Ubuntu for Xubuntu's XFCE interface, because I couldn't stand Unity on my desktops and laptops. Maybe Unity will be OK when the all-Ubuntu phone comes out.
          MinnesotaJon
          • Would you have stayed with Ubuntu if they hadn't changed the UI?

            I know I would have. Would you say that most of the issues with a desktop UI have been worked out and there is no real need for change based on what you need the system to do? I would. If we want to polish it up, sure, but don't move things or change the how something is working for the sake of change. Far too many changes now are targeting a mobile UI and making the desktop UI worse. If you want to write for mobile, go do it. Don't destroy the desktop UI to do it.
            happyharry_z
          • I had the same issue with Unity and went to Zorin OS as it

            uses the Ubuntu base and has a range of UIs you can choose from - even ones that look a lot like certain versions of Windows for those that ant to stay that way.
            Deadly Ernest
        • Note quite

          Windows does allow for it, but most people don't bother writing one

          http://pravin.insanitybegins.com/posts/deeshell
          happyharry_z
      • One UI to rule them all

        Exactly what we Linux users don't need.
        John L. Ries
      • Re: Too much choice

        Yeah, too many Linux users disagree with you. You need to stop them.
        ldo17
    • Respect? Choice?

      Sounds like Windows to me.

      Respect for developers = Respect for users

      An operating system that any user can pick up is one that we (the devs) can work with.

      You have a choice on what OS you want, MS isn't forcing it down your throat.

      Computers run Windows because it's is the industry standard, not because Microsoft is holding a gun to heads of their OEMs.

      Would you rather go back to a time where every single company had their own proprietary operating system?

      That's the main weakness of the "Linux dream".
      ForeverCookie
      • right?

        OEM's should offer a barebones solution in retail mode, with media to divine whatever OS they choose. (GNU\Linux, MS) WITH the option to save a couple of hundred for not buying MS, and the bloatware. Heck, even offer a paid support for the GNU OS if they decide to use it. Still make money, Grandma gets Ubuntu. SCORE!
        brbaldwin
        • Apples and Oragnes and other Fruits!

          Well there are several thoughts on this article. One is that Apple didn't rip anyone off? Hah! If they can copy Android's features, they can be called ripoff artists! Because that is exactly what they claim about everyone else. Seems it's OKAY if Apple does it, anyone else and it's a freakin' Patent War and Name Calling all over! So no, Apple gets no breaks here, they are blatantly ripping off Android.

          As for UI options on Operating Systems, I'm all for change, I'm all for choice. But what Microsoft has done with Windows 8? 8.1 is not going to save it! You don't make a DESKTOP OS off of a Mobile UI that relies totally on TOUCH Screen. I can't think of any reason to have a touch screen Desktop, too many problems. Children in family homes would be one of the biggest at getting screens so nasty and dirty that you'd spend more time cleaning off your monitor on a daily basis. That and the cost of Touch Screens are not low enough to be a feasible option.

          As for bare bone systems being offered? They're already there, just they don't have the names of HP, Sony, Compaq, DELL, Acer, etc... That and if you really want the system of your dreams? SAVE some money and BUILD IT YOURSELF! That's the best way to get exactly what you want an desire. Learn to read, learn to search out the different components and build your system. I have been doing it since the late 90's and still prefer this over ANYTHING any OEM can offer me. If I could build my own Smartphone? Heh I'd do it in a heartbeat over dealing with all the crap we go through with Carriers.

          Oh and yes, Microsoft is shoving Windows 8 down peoples throats. How? Can you find Windows 7 available for sale other than places like NewEgg.com or TigerDirect? Sure there is Ebay, but you can get easily ripped off there. Some Mom and Pop shops will have it still, Fry's Electronics MAY still have it. But Microsoft pretty much pulled it from the shelves in major retail stores which means in short order they'll pull support for it as well. Microsoft is not stupid, they know to make Windows 8 sell at all they had to make it where it was the only option available or at least make it seem this way. Windows 8 is a complete and utter failure, lots of people that have it, HATE IT! I'm still on Windows 7 Ultimate because I refuse to deal with all the garbage they're shoving at us with Windows 8. So don't take their stupid side unless you know what you're talking about.

          As for Linux, I'd love Linux to take over the Desktop market, but until Major Software Manufactures get on board, it will never happen. Except for Android, which is poised but not nearly ready, for Desktop dominance. Android is far to modular for Desktop, while being Modular works great for Mobile, not so much on Desktop. This would raise a lot of performance issues as well as compatibility problems. This is why Ubuntu would be a better choice, as a lot already are familiar with it. Android still has a ways to go before I see it taking on Windows and Apple in the Desktop market. Needs a lot of revamping, it's like the difference of Smartphone vs Tablet, the UI and everything needs to match what it's installed on. So there would need to be a Desktop version of Android that is totally different in how it handles things. Not rest on it's Touch Screen design.
          RTWDesigns
          • windows 7

            you can still buy it from microsoft also. I just bought a copy a few days ago.
            67cougargt
        • Hmmm....

          Do you understand that the reason the machines from OEMs are cheaper is BECAUSE of the bundled software? You can't save money by buying without it. The OEMs are paid to put those on there, offsetting the cost to the consumers.

          Now, that being said, most of the big OEMs offer exactly what you're talking about... Not on $500 laptops, but they certainly offer it on their business products.

          But then, if you're buying a $500 laptop, you're buying garbage in the first place and I hope we aren't talking about those...
          jbwillis01
        • Then grandma finds...

          All of the software she accumulated over the years no longer works and she can't figure out how to install anything. FAIL!
          jvitous
        • OEMs have that option

          But would rather offer computers with Windows on them (and "free" add on (crapware) software that they get paid to put on the computers).
          grayknight
      • This has always been the challenge of forking

        Everybody builds something different and interoperability is destroyed. It puts us back to reinventing the wheel all the time and we can't go forward if we're constantly having to go back. I like Linux, I like the concepts of open source, but what I can't work with is the heavy politics and having the turn every project into a computer science project to get things done. We just don't have the time or the budget for it. Other places are different (like Google and Facebook) and they can afford the large engineering teams. Most can't.
        happyharry_z
        • Interoperability isn't necessarily destroyed

          Linux/X critics complain a lot about the lack of a standard UI, but never mention that apps written for one will run on all the others, provided that the appropriate libraries are installed (and most Linux distros include all of them by default).

          So if you want to run KDE apps under Gnome or XFCE, go right ahead; they'll work just fine.
          John L. Ries
      • Try that again, and with some truth.

        You said - You have a choice on what OS you want, MS isn't forcing it down your throat.

        Yet MS pressure the vendors to provide new systems with only MS Windows via physical retail sales shops. They won't sell you legal licences for the older versions of Windows.

        ............

        You also said - - Would you rather go back to a time where every single company had their own proprietary operating system?

        And that is EXACTLY what Microsoft are doing, they deliberately ignore the industry standard command sets they agreed to back in the early 1990s. They now make deliberate changes to their existing proprietary command sets to make the older software incompatible with the current versions of Windows just so they can force people to buy new copies of Office etc.

        And Apple are well down that path to.

        Unix and Linux are the only OSs that use ONLY the industry standard commands to allow for compatibility.
        Deadly Ernest
    • Choice

      And yet every couple years the average user likely has to deal with a UI change.
      Michael Alan Goff