Person First

Last week I followed Microsoft’s event focused on Windows 10 and, surprisingly, something more. To me, this presentation was, yet, another confirmation of the shift towards a person first experience, where the content is transitioning seamlessly across devices.

We’ve been hearing a lot of "mobile first" theories lately. Great ones, though. But some of them were approaching mobile “only” in terms of responsive design or adaptive layouts. Thinking of this is like assuming mobile means we now also experience the internet from smaller screens. And of course, this assumption misses the bigger picture. The implications of mobile are deeper than that and we have to rethink the whole experience when we approach mobile first.

Benedict Evans explains this better than anybody in his “Mobile is eating the world” (a wink at Marc Andreessen’s brilliant essay about how “Software is eating the world”).

Evans states many things, but points to a few key factors that have lead to a paradigm shift.

  1. Tech is now selling to millions, not only IT managers, and by millions (or billions) he means people all around the globe. Now there’s people in Africa that might have problems to access to clean water, but they already have a mobile device.
  2. Mobile is the first experience for a lot of these people. They never had a computer before, so they don’t care if you went to a browser to search for things before, they use apps right out of the box. Mobile is their paradigm now and the interaction model has radically changed.
  3. Mobile leverages the built-in sensors in order to amplify the ability of creating content and also gathering data from the environment.
  4. In richer countries, most people usually have more than one device, so they experience their content from different viewports.

For all these reasons mobile is a big deal and not just a fancy word analysts use to fill articles and slides. We’ve been talking about mobile first from a designer perspective for a long time now, but the real implications of mobile run deeper than pixels and inches.

The idea of a person first approach is that as you move around you get a seamless experience, form your wrist, phone or laptop. So now, it is the content that goes with you and the challenge is to provide cohesive experiences across devices, no matter what you use. 

Despite the mobile first design was a great initial approach to consuming content on these devices, I’m convinced that the mobile paradigm is gravitating towards a person first design. By person first design I mean that the focus is not in the device anymore, instead is in the person (or the user, if you want). 

 Apple wants to create a connected environment where your stuff moves seamlessly from your iPhone, to your Mac, and soon, even to your wrist.

Apple wants to create a connected environment where your stuff moves seamlessly from your iPhone, to your Mac, and soon, even to your wrist.

This implies that now the content is floating and consumed anywhere you go. The mobility of persons matters more than the mobility of the device itself. And the idea of a person first approach is that as you move around you get a seamless experience, form your wrist, phone or laptop. So now, is the content that goes with you and the challenge is to provide cohesive experiences across devices, no matter what you use. 

A great example of this idea is Apple. Although there is a conceptual and a marketing distinction between Mac OS X and iOS, the end goal is to sell a connected environment where your stuff moves seamlessly from your iPhone, to your Mac, and soon, even to your wrist.

In this new environment is not enough to control a single platform or a device, what really matters on this new paradigm is to control the experience across the board, that’s the person first approach. Now that the mobile platform war has settled, from a technical perspective, the fight now is in another layer, the cloud, and how to manage and coordinate this new environment.

Windows is the greatest example of absolute domination of the old world. Being in that position and realize that the environment you used to rule has dramatically changed is hard. But it seems they've understood that and they are willing to come around.

That being said, back to the Microsoft event. Windows 10 was a big confirmation of these trends and it was (at least to me) a great surprise that a company with the deepest roots in the old paradigm was willing to shift towards the new world.

Windows is the greatest example of absolute domination of the old world. They owned the whole PC market. They understood the IT manager. They knew the end user was not the customer and they designed the product accordingly. And they succeeded the most. Being in that position and realize that the environment you used to rule has dramatically changed is hard. But it seems they understood that and they are willing to come around.

The first step towards this new environment was their Build conference a few months ago. All the cloud stuff build in an horizontal architecture, in order to work no matter what the end point you use, was surprising. Microsoft was in a privileged position to do that and take great advantage in the cloud war.

But I think their ideas got mixed up the moment they throw Windows in the equation. Because their vertical (and most successful) product got in conflict with their amazing horizontal strategy. Sounds familiar?

I said mixed up because their message was confusing all the time. On one hand they talked about technology “being more personal” and a world “with more devices than people”, so they perfectly understood the horizontal approach. But in the other hand, they got entrenched in a demo without featuring any product running on an iPhone or Android and talked about Windows in terms of “love”.

Microsoft expects both vertical and horizontal business units to succeed, but the truth is that for one to survive, the other needs to, at least, adapt.

They understand the new environment, but they are trying to push, in this environment, a product that was clearly designed for another set of problems, and here we have a great tension. Despite Windows 10 is clearly a great approach to this multi device world and a direct response to most of Windows 8 fundamental flaws, it wasn’t placed in a real work environment.

Because in a real environment, people use an iPhone or an HTC and then comes home and wants the same experience in a Windows computer or whatever. Microsoft expects both vertical and horizontal business units to succeed, but the truth is that for one to survive, the other needs to, at least, adapt.

I’m really confident that Microsoft has a place in this new environment, a good one though. But I’m not sure Windows has one either. The problem is that Windows is so deeply rooted in Microsoft that I suspect that anybody has the guts to say “hey Windows, it’s been a great time, thank you, but it’s time for you to go home”.


*Inspiration and credit for this post comes from the Episode 032 of Exponent - a fantastic podcast that I can't recommend enough - by Ben Thompson & James Allworth.