Microsoft Giving Up on Tablets? Why Do Edge UI Gestures Fire Off Desktop Actions?

Okay, maybe that title is a little hyperbolic. I mean, Microsoft has been promoting the living daylights out of tablets. Creating zero dollar licenses for OEM’s, pouring tons of money into apps and developers, rewriting their app model, even building their own computers. Microsoft seems to see Windows 10 as a viable platform for Microsoft services on tablets. But I don’t believe them.

Windows 8.x was not well received because apparently the interface was not ‘discoverable’. You know, like how 3 and 4 finger gestures on trackpads and iPads as so discoverable. Like single vs. double clicking is discoverable. Like how right clicking is discoverable (yes I’m being sarcastic). Interfaces are learned, not discovered. Some features are more obvious than others, some you actually need to learn. Even to this day, with the almighty taskbar, I see users double click the icons to launch programs there and wonder why they get two copies.

“Why do we single click on the taskbar, but double click to launch on the desktop and file manager?”

Because we learned to do it. Or in some cases never did. Why is it different? Is that ‘discoverable’?

The price we’re paying to the desktop in Windows 10 is too high

Windows 8.x really through a wrench into people’s daily use of Windows because of the sheer volume of changes. Slowly but surely, once we were up to Windows 8.1 Update, things were a lot better. Don’t like the Start screen or metro applications? Turn it off. Work in the desktop. You basically encounter the new environment only occasionally. And I’m sorry about the Start Menu, but if you were still using that instead of pinning programs to your taskbar, well, maybe it was time to join the modern era, but whatever.

Windows 10, aiming to right the wrongs of its predecessor, puts back all the desktop goodness and really does a great job of appeasing the critics–it will never get them all, since Microsoft is not Apple. But in their zeal, they’ve completely destroyed the Windows tablet experience. An 8″ tablet should not be a little desktop. And that’s what it is now. Things that were all designed around where your hands are and fingers reach (that were studied in great detail by Microsoft for Windows 8) are thrown out.

There is no touch-UI to speak of anymore.

Sure you can touch it, but it’s not designed around it in any way. Touch targets are either nonexistent, hard to reach, or impossibly tiny (seriously, the taskbar on an 8″ tablet and you want me to hit the show more icons button?). Even the Start Menu, the entire left hand side of icons is really hard to hit in addition to just being ugly.

The edge-UI is ruined. What used to enable quickly flipping through applications now is a virtual desktop manager. No one handed use for switching, no quick access to the Windows button or settings or networks or sharing. This was all right at your thumbs and simple. Now you hunt around the app for this. And the Start button is now firmly placed in the ugly, ever present, ‘too tiny to work with’ taskbar–and to reach it requires a weird painful thumb bend.

And that sums up what’s wrong here–Windows 10 doesn’t need to do this. Every touch action turns out to be a weird painful bend. There’s even a special mode for touch that basically just makes things full screen, but everything is still desktop focused. Why not really have a touch friendly mode. In current builds, touch gestures like edge swipes that are only ever activated via touch launch desktop features. Swipe in from the side, things should be on the side and reachable. But they’re not. They pop up full apps in the middle of the screen. The notification center could have a button or two maybe for Windows and Share. The Start Menu could have just the tiles rather than the impossible small list of icons. The taskbar could be hidden–that god-awful, ugly, taskbar does not belong in a touch UI.

Is this really supposed to compete with Android and iPad?

If you look at Android tablets or iPads their touch UI is a touch UI. If Microsoft intends to compete here, it can’t have this patchwork desktop crammed into a tablet. It was really onto something with it’s touch interface in Win 8 if you took any time at all to learn it. Just like every other OS. Microsoft could very well have ‘evolved’ both. Continuum should really switch modes and support the tablet with a real touch UI. Holding a Windows 10 tablet and trying to use it is an exercise in frustration.

Don’t get me wrong, Windows 10 is fantastic on desktops and traditional notebooks, in almost every way. But when Windows continuums its way into tablet mode, it needs to really act like it. My experience with it on both an 8″ and 10″ device in tablet mode has been awful, they are now useless as tablets. What were once elegant devices are now kludgy desktops with no keyboards. On my main PC however it’s been great–solving a lot of outstanding wants (plus is fast as hell and has shown to be compatible even with our very vertical company software). But in it’s present form Windows 10 will never grace the screen of my (perfect) Encore Write 2. It would be a painful step backwards in productivity and elegance.

There is room enough for both here. And maybe there will be improvement–but now that it’s slated for a summer release, time is ticking down to fix these things. And to a lot of the people that say this is just how it is, I’m wondering when was the last time you really used a Windows 8.x tablet to it’s full potential. You’re getting your way with desktop in Windows 10, let us have the good experience with tablet mode. If Windows 10 in tablet mode is Microsoft idea of a competitive product with the likes of the iPad they’ve already given up. And just wait until Apple ‘invents’ the edge UI on something like an iPad Pro–and we can all remember when ours used to be cool too.

But did I still order the Windows Ninja Cat riding a fire breathing unicorn? You bet the hell I did. High hopes remain!