When Microsoft released Windows Phone and Windows 8, they managed to finally change the discussion about how an operating system should look and feel. For the first time since Steve Jobs stood on stage and put a dent in the universe with the original iPhone, the classic row of icons and rounded corners paradigm of design was finally starting to feel old and dated.
Designers and IT pro alike were fascinated. Had Microsoft finally found a real voice in its design? Could Microsoft become the cool company again? Had they out-Appled Apple?
Sales have been lousy. The press has completely turned against the products. Consumers and businesses very quickly developed a very negative and usually unreasonable opinion about it, even before Windows 8 was offered for sale.
It wasn’t the technology, nor the design. It was the brand. Microsoft hurt itself very badly by taking something truly new and innovative, interesting and game-changing and sticking it with the name “Windows”.
Somewhere along the line, the powers-that-be in Redmond decided that Windows is a beloved and highly-respected brand. Most consumers don’t think of Windows at all, except maybe as that thing that crashes their computer at work. Even when buying hardware, people more likely ask about which “PC” to buy, or look at Dell, HP or Lenovo. Most consumers care more about having Microsoft Office (the more powerful brand, really), than Windows. It’s like if auto companies tried to market their products based on someone’s engine under the hood.
Windows’ domination of PC world dates back at at least 1992 (when Windows 3.1 was released). This brand name, very strongly associated with PCs and servers for over a decade, has been a cornerstone of the computer revolution. While it has made Microsoft the powerhouse that it is, it also carries a ton of baggage, as well as lots of expectations – positive and negative – with consumers, businesses and IT professionals.
So, when Microsoft brought Windows Phone and Windows 8 to the world, and tagged them with an old, established brand name, they lost the opportunity to put into people’s mind something really new and amazing. Oh, it’s Windows, I know all about that.
What Microsoft should have done is created something new: Surface OS, Modern OS, even Win OS, and presented it to the world as Microsoft’s effort to revolutionize computing. By breaking with the past, they could have started to reach the mobile audience in a new way and show that they were leapfrogging Google and Apple. Then, once that had started to make inroads, start to bring that new look and feel to Windows (Windows 8, powered by Surface OS). When the OS starts up, it should have said, “would you like to try Surface OS?” Eventually, as the market trends revealed themselves, they could have integrated more and more. The new product could have stood side-by-side Windows as another billion-dollar line.
Instead of trying to abruptly change a brand’s reputation by forcing it down users’ throats, there should have been establishment of a new brand, introduced to the world in an exciting and different way. Early adapters and taste makers could have been courted, all of the beta issues and bugs worked out, and then the rest of world brought along. It would have taken longer, and far more successful for everyone involved.