Before my family started using our new Microsoft Surface tablet, we spent a little time going over the navigation techniques — basically, if you’re lost or wondering what to do, swipe in from one of the edges and something helpful should happen.
But one experience this week illustrated the learning curve that the new device requires users to climb.
As many of you know, this whole thing started when I convinced my wife to divert our iPad budget to one of the new Microsoft Surface tablets running Windows 8 (technically, Windows RT, the version of Windows 8 for ARM processors). In large part I’m treating it as a test, to see whether the Microsoft device can satisfy our needs for a tablet around the house, and live up to our expectations for the iPad.
The outcome of this experiment has been delayed somewhat by the fact that I’ve been taking the Surface to work (more on that in a future post), but I did leave the device with my wife for one full day earlier this week. When I got home, I asked how it went. There was a long pause, because she knew why I was asking. (She has been reading these posts.)
Here’s what happened. My wife had been listening to songs in the Xbox Music app — a very cool service similar to Spotify that comes free with Windows 8 machines. She got a call on her phone, and went to Xbox Music to pause what was playing.
But there are exactly zero visual cues on the screen indicating how to control the track — until you remember to swipe from the top or bottom of the screen. (For keyboard and mouse users, it’s a right-click.) In the moment, with the call coming in, she wasn’t able to remember how to activate the controls. To put it in technical terms, the user interface was non-obvious.
Yes, this becomes more natural over time, but the situation speaks to the adjustment that new Windows 8 users will have to make as they use the new operating system — not just in Xbox Music on the Surface, but across all new apps on Windows 8 machines. The bootup experience offers a brief animated tutorial, but after that you’re pretty much on your own.
Here’s my question: Why not just put the controls on the screen by default?