What Windows 8 and RT Still Need to be Ready for Primetime

Introduction

Windows 8 has been released in what they call a final state, but even with that, there are many things that can be changed and added to make this OS feel more finished and polished than it is right now.  I’ve been living with the OS for nearly a week, and I’m already feeling the pain, and missing Windows 7.

Windows RT/8

If you’re using Windows 8 right now, the main screen that Microsoft wants us to use is the Start screen.  That’s nice, but there’s no date/time, battery, wireless/internet connection icon, or volume indicator, as we get on the Windows 7 desktop or for that matter, the Windows 8 desktop.  This shouldn’t be terribly difficult to add, and place right next to our account pictures.  That would add to the ‘glance-and-go’ ability of this OS, which is the direction Microsoft says they want to go, whereas now, I have to swipe the charms in to get the time/date overlay.  In addition, tapping the account menu and getting a ‘sleep’, ‘shut down’, and ‘restart’ option to show there in addition to what shows now, instead of hiding it in the charms > settings > power.  That would solve the complaint of power users.  Additionally, it would be great to add ‘Print’ to the app bars of Microsoft’s apps so I don’t have to swipe to charms > devices > printer > print > OK.  Twenty years of Windows have had a print button right there, one click.  Why do we suddenly need to swipe all over the place in the name of simplistic interfaces?

When on an app, and you have a 1/3 app and another app open 2/3 of the screen, swipe to full-screen the app.  You’ll see how it just snaps over.  It would look more fluid if the app pulled over to full screen, in a form of animation instead of just popping there.  Try it out and you’ll see what I mean.  Truthfully, a 1/2 screen view is more useful to me since I do quite a bit of document side-by-side.

Another useful tool from Windows Phone is voice control, either built-in or the Ask Ziggy app.  Reminiscent of the TellMe advertisement, this is something that should be built-in for Windows 8 so that it can recognize your commands by voice as well as touch.

When in any app provided from MS, I would like to have the option to pin the app bars onto the screen.  Having to swipe all the time is irritating, and my parents, who are in their 60s, don’t understand why they can’t see the app bars, and now regret having bought new computers with Windows 8.  On Surface, closing applications is also a bit iffy.  It would be nice to have this behavior improved, and have a close button added to all apps.  I understand Microsoft wants you to drag the app down to close, but on a non-touchscreen that’s more mouse movement then simply clicking the X; if I could just tap the X to close an app rather than drag it down, that would be a big improvement in my eyes, and again, my parents don’t want to drag down an app when they can just click X to close on regular desktop apps.  Also, the built-in News app crashed my Surface tablet.

A behavior that would help Surface and Windows 8 be more useful would be taken from Windows Phone 7/8.  In Windows Phone, you turn on the screen while listening to music, and playback controls are there on the Lock Screen.  That’s not currently the case for Windows 8/RT and would be an incredibly useful feature.

For any app I purchase, I would like the option to send feedback to the app’s author, above and beyond the ‘rate and review’ option already there.  That would be a great way to give feedback to the author for customer questions and feature requests.

For Surface itself, it needs GPS so we can make the Maps app more useful and geotag pictures, and make use of Local Scout.  In addition, a 5 MP or better rear camera and 1.2 or 2 MP front-facing camera would make it more useful for pictures.  NFC should be included on all future models as well.

One feature that still doesn’t exist is the ability to use my own wallpaper on the Start Screen.  There’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to upload my own wallpaper, especially if I’ve used Image Composite Editor to create a large-size panorama.  On Windows Phone, if you create a lock screen, it contains a box showing where the wallpaper dimensions are, and you can resize the picture within that limit to fit the screen size.  All you have to do is the exact same thing for Windows 8/RT, and there you have a custom Start Screen wallpaper.  I’m surprised Microsoft didn’t think of this themselves.

Something else pointed out in Paul Thurrott’s blog is the state of Play To with Windows 8, which is a sad thing to talk about.  I would have expected with Windows 8’s focus on simplicity and “just working” that I could just play to any device, or write a program to play to any device or have another Windows 8 computer play to mine.  That would make sense, so long as it’s a licensed copy of Windows 8, or a device that’s marketed as Play To.  Not so for Windows 8.  Microsoft has made it so only certified Play To devices work in Windows 8, and there’s apparently only 1 at the moment from Western Digital.  As a commenter on that post notes, this needs to change.  He posits the ability to simply attach network storage to your home network, and then have that show within Windows 8 as a source automatically based on type (music, video, etc), and even a Surface TV unit that would simply use Windows RT, and work with an eHome remote of any type (X-Box remote, WMC remote, etc.) to control media.  With such a device drawing from Network Attached Storage, you have a potentially limitless source of media for a Surface TV, as well as having a built-in tuner (OTA, CableCard and DLNA DTCP) for what could be a killer set-top box.  Whether such a thing happens is another story, but it would be amazing.

Internet Explorer Metro version

I continually find myself asking “where’s the print button? ” or “where is the favorites menu?” and “where is the history?” when using this.  I would like icons added to the address bar so I can access them more easily.  In addition, the option to pin the address bar to the screen so I don’t have to continually swipe up to get to it would be great.  This confuses older people who are not technically-savvy, like my own father, who has taken to using my mother’s Windows 7 laptop because he can see the app bar in IE consistently, and it has a close button.

Additionally, how do I see what I’ve downloaded in the Metro interface?  I see no way to see my list of downloads, nor do I have the ability to see the progress of multiple downloads, or tap on them to open individually.  When a download finishes, I see “Your download has completed” but I can’t see which download completed.  Why?

Also, where are RSS feeds in this version of IE?  And why is there no built-in RSS App beyond the News app?

Another annoyance is web advertisements.  I muted the surface by pressing volume down until the display showed zero.  THEN, a web ad popped up at the original volume.  Why?  If I turned the system volume down, why do I still hear ads?

Bing

The biggest omission so far is the lack of Local Scout.  This was surprising and is sorely missed from my Windows Phone.  How about Bing Vision?  And what about the new Bing Features added to Windows Phone 8, like movie times, sport scores, and such?

Calendar

There should be an option to pin the application bar so I don’t have to swipe up so much.  In addition, semantic zoom would be useful so that I can zoom out and tap another month, or zoom out again to choose another year, or again to choose a decade.  This is already possible in the Windows 7 desktop.  In addition, some birthdays appear on the wrong day on the calendar – showing a day earlier than they should.

Desktop

I know Microsoft wants us to use the new Start Screen, but for veterans, the option to boot to the desktop, and perhaps snap the start screen to the left of the desktop would make great feature enhancements, and ease the transition to the “Modern UI.”  Currently, the Start Screen cannot be snapped.  If I have an app snapped on the side, and close my main app, that 2/3 remains blank and blue, and doesn’t show the Start screen like I would expect it to.  It just looks odd, and unfinished.  This “feature” in action:

When viewing two apps in snapped view, the system works as expected.

When viewing two apps in snapped view, the system works as expected.

Having closed the 'main' app, by swiping down, the majority of the screen is now blank, showing nothing.

Having closed the ‘main’ app, by swiping down, the majority of the screen is now blank, showing nothing.  Why?

Hub Integration

The picture hub is more integrated with Windows Phone, and now with Windows 8/RT, there are the beginnings of that same integration in the desktop, but the implementation seems to be only partly there.

There is a photo app in the desktop, but it could give me a friend feed to see what pictures my friends are posting where, similar to on the phone, and give the opportunity to like, comment, and share those posts.  Given the larger size of the desktop / tablet over the phone, another good idea would be to see a timeline view of your pictures, so you can see them in order of when you took them, possibly using the Pivot View from Live Labs as the viewing metaphor.  Also, a map view for any pictures I have that are geotagged would also be great, so I can see where I took which picture (similar to Facebook’s Maps view), and finally, a ‘breadcrumb’ view or a ‘journey’ view, showing me in time when/where I took which picture, so if I went to England, show me on the map at Heathrow, the Tower of London, the Museum, Buckingham Palace, moving around using Bing Maps, integrated into the shell of the OS.   People tags should allow me to sort by who’s in which picture, and pictures of people should show in the People hub under each person’s profile/card, and on the Bing Map of my friends – that would be a great way to discover ‘hey, my friend from school also went to London!’  I could then comment on those pictures, and ‘like’ them.  The Windows Live Photo Gallery had people tagging, which is lacking currently in Windows 8 / RT.

The Music hub within Windows should be inspired by at a minimum, or at best, replaced by Zune, as I describe later in this article.  I don’t see a need to separate out music and videos like was done.  Since they are hubs now, though, I would say that social feeds should be integrated into both apps if they remain separate, or even if they are combined in the future, so that we can see what friends are watching or listening to, and then like/comment/share that, and also be able to tap on it to go into the Store to purchase that media.

Internet Explorer

How do I view my favorites or history, or clear them out?  I can’t do that unless I go to the Desktop, or open a new tab, and THEN I see my favorites.  There needs to be a button on the metro version of IE for favorites and for history.  How do I subscribe to RSS Feeds, much less read them?

Additionally, IE Metro seems to experience a number of crashes and odd behavior on certain websites which will crash the program that don’t affect the desktop version.

Libraries

A useful metaphor on the desktop that could be extended is the use of libraries.  There are music, picture, document, and video libraries in Windows 7, but I believe Windows 8 and beyond would benefit from having: podcasts, audiobooks, television, movies, and music videos as libraries.  If I purchase TV shows from the X-Box Video Store, they would get saved into the television library.  A video file I place in there myself would be assumed by the X-Box Video application to be a TV show, and would be found there by default.  Likewise items I place in movies, music videos, or podcasts.  This makes sense, and makes organization beneficial for the user.

Mail

How do I download all attachments at once?  It looks now that I have to do this one at a time.  In addition, it doesn’t appear that I can create Junk Mail or ‘move to folder’ rules, which I would expect by tap+hold or selecting the message itself.

Maps

There can be room for improvement here.  How about bringing in my Bing Scrapbook containing all my check-ins from Facebook?  From the start screen of the maps, we need a way to store our own ‘places’ – places we’ve been, places we want to go.  Anywhere I’ve checked in on Facebook should be available in maps, and even better would be to mark down places I’ve been (and when) without making it public to everyone.

Another great idea here would be to have a list of places and have this app check them off my list as I visit them, or offer to check them off the list of places I want to visit.  After that, the option to view statistics of “which states have I seen?” “which cities have I seen?” and “which countries have I seen?” would be a great thing.

If I tap-hold, I would like to see ‘What’s Here?’ like on the website, with the option to get directions and save it to my places.  Again, the option to pin the menu so it doesn’t disappear would be great.

When ‘finding’ a place, it should auto-correct to show local businesses near me, and for the results, offer to save those places so I can get back to them easily at a later time.  The search results box in the upper left corner should also have a ‘clear search’ button.  That would make more sense than swiping up and clicking ‘clear map.’  One tap instead of swipe-tap.  Much more efficient.

In addition, pictures I took anywhere with geotags and without should be viewable on the map where I took them, with the option to geotag more pictures onto the map, along with tagging people in the pictures on the map, viewing my places in a timeline so I can see in order, where I’ve been.

How do I have the app show me where restaurants, shopping, museums, hotels/motels, churches, parks, etc are?  I see no option to just show me where the shops, restaurants, and other places are so I can get a feel for a place, especially on a trip.  Just add a menu item for “show…” with checkboxes for restaurants, churches, hotels/motels, etc.

Another useful feature would be to grab a few places together and save them as a ‘trip’ and have maps plot the shortest route between them, suggest a starting place, and offer me restaurants nearby within a price range, cuisine type, noting their hours as well, along with hotels/motels within a price range and rating.  It would note when I want to leave and return from the trip, and also factor in average travel time, as well as offer other sights to see based on type (museum, park, etc) and price (free only, cheap, etc) so I can maximize my vacations.  Wouldn’t this make you want to use the Maps app?  Also, where is Local Scout from Windows Phone?  That would be useful for Win8RT.

In addition, tap+hold should have an option “what’s here?” to find out what’s there, and an option to pin the menu onto the screen so I don’t have to keep swiping up to get it back.

Marketplace

When downloading updates to any application, how do I know what changed?  Where is the changelog for all these updates?  Additionally, how many times do I need to tap on “try again” to get it to recognize that I tapped it?  And updates?

Media Playback

One user has complained that it seems Windows 8 cannot have apps read files from Network Attached Storage, which would remove a huge capability from media playback apps to have a leg up on the competition.  Additionally, any media app should have the ability to set a ‘file watcher’ to watch for new files or changed files to update the app’s databases.

I would echo the users’ comments here, as they make sense and would be a great idea.  Create a Surface TV to access HomeGroup media running Windows RT with as many built-in codecs as they can stuff into it.  VLC Media player is free and can play any file you throw at it.  If they can do that, so can Microsoft.  Surface TV would play files with multiple audio tracks and multiple embedded and separate subtitle files, and work with an eHome-compatible remote control.  In addition, a Surface Cube ‘headless server’ would be created, just like Windows Home Server was.  It would have slots for hard drives to be simply plugged in and ready to use for media storage so that it’s expandable as your needs change.  You could purchase your own OTA, CableCard and DLNA DTCP tuners for it at around $50 a piece so you could record as many live shows as you have cards.  This Cube would download guide data automatically for you, and allow live TV recording.  Microsoft would then recode Windows Media Center to run as a metro app for Windows RT to provide the big-screen interface for live TV and TV guide apps with recording scheduling that will auto-detect a ‘Surface Cube’ and just ask for a ZIP code and TV provider to download guide data.  Surface TV would be completely plug-and-play: all you do is plug it in, attach network cable, sign in with your MS Account, and you’re done.  It would be a complete media solution with Windows RT, full DVR functionality like Windows Media Center has provided for years, with remote control functionality.  This would head off Apple TV at the pass.  Even better would be to allow TV manufacturers who meet a certain set of specifications to integrate with the exact same interface, so that TV manufacturers become part of the Surface family, accessing the Cube, and accessing X-Box Music/Video so all your movies, TV shows, pictures, and music are just there.  With that stroke, Apple TV won’t have a chance.

Messaging

This client is pretty spartan, and could use some work.  Again, the option to pin the app bar onto the screen for those who want it would be very welcome.  I’m tired of constantly swiping to get those options to show.

The desktop version of this app has a lot more options available that are missing here, including video/voice chat, file attachments, web sharing, video messages, and starting games with friends are missing and restoring those options would be very welcome.  Also, how do I view or archive my older messages?  If I’ve IM’ed a person 2 years ago, does this app archive that so that I can see those messages?

Microsoft Account

I created a Live account using a non-Microsoft e-mail, and I also have an outlook.com e-mail address.  I would like to have the ability to merge the two accounts together, and have the outlook.com e-mail serve as my main e-mail address for my account.  Currently, there does not appear any way to do this.

Multi-Monitor Support

According to one user on Paul Thurrott’s blog, you cannot have one Metro app per screen in Windows 8, which makes no sense.  What is technically preventing this?  Nothing.  Why should I not be able to have a main app and a 1/3 ‘snapped’ app on both monitors I use?  Or if I have three or four monitors on my desktop, why shouldn’t I be able to have 4 apps and 4 ‘snapped’ apps up at once?  I can do this on Windows 7 with normal desktop apps.  There’s no need for any limitations if this is indeed the case, on a desktop.

News

This app has potential, but it did crash my surface to the point of forcing me to re-boot the system.  I would like to see the option to add news in foreign languages, as I speak more than just English.  I would like to add welt.de to my feeds, but I can’t see a way to do that.  What about the RSS Feeds from other websites around the world?  There’s no way to subscribe to them.

Partners

One thing the iPhone and Android ecosystems have, but Windows doesn’t, is fitness partners.  You have Nike+, and now this new wristband (Amiigo) to track exercise that automatically synchronizes with your phone to track your exercise routine, calories burned, and lets you compete with your friends.  Microsoft should absolutely bring in the fitness crowd with some kind of sponsored fitness accessory for the Windows Phone and Windows 8.

Play To features

If what has been said at Paul Thurrott’s blog is true, then Play To has been crippled in Windows 8 so that you can only play to certified devices, of which there is only 1…from Western Digital.  Nothing against them, but if you want to make Play To truly functional then it should be opened up to app developers so that if I write an app with a Play To Contract, then my app can play to the X-Box, with any transcoding handled by the X-Box or operating system.  My app would also be a valid Play To target, so that if I have a set-top PC under my TV, and a Surface Tablet, I can have my app on Surface play to my app on the set-top PC so I can watch that movie I purchased from Zune on the TV in full HD.  This just makes sense.

Relaying what the blog poster indicated, it would be a big improvement to make any Windows 8 computer a valid Play To and DLNA target and source for media playback.  Then, add in more built-in codec support (Bitstreaming of TrueHD, DTS or DTS-Master audio; MKV, MPEG2 (without WMC pack), Ogg, Mov, DVD, Blu-Ray, and so on) without any intervention on the part of the user.  With the price of Windows 8, there’s no reason some of that couldn’t go to paying for the licenses of any codec requiring it.  Additionally, add built-in support for subtitles and multiple audio tracks for any video file that supports it, and ISO files being valid media sources.  I’ve backed up my DVDs to prevent scratching from repeated playback, and I don’t see why my movies shouldn’t show up in X-Box Video or any other app that plays videos.

People

How exactly do I enable people live tiles?  I still can’t figure this out.  On Windows Phone, if you pin a person to the Start Screen, their tiles animate with status updates and mail/IM/text/call notifications.  In Windows 8 – nothing.  Also, how do I make sure my photos can be shared with the People App?  My own brother’s photos don’t show up there.

How do I add birthdays and anniversaries?  There is no field for either of them, whereas Outlook 2013 allows you to add that information, as does People on Windows Phone 8.  So, why the omission?

For ‘significant other’ I would recommend and suggest that if that person exists in my contacts / people hub, it should link directly to that person’s profile.  In addition, it would be great to add places for father, mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, and children, linking to those people’s profiles if they exist.

Another oddity is any information I’ve added on my Windows Phone does not automatically synch to the People on Outlook.com nor on Windows 8’s people hub.  I’ve got missing birthdays, and missing groups amongst all 3, when they should all be completely synchronized.

Pictures

How can I see my pictures on a map if already geo-tagged, or geo-tag them if not already?  How do I tag friends in pictures?  Neither of these features are available.  When I plug in a USB drive, does Photos open, and offer to import pictures into an album with its own folder like iPhotos does for Mac users already, and also upload to Skydrive as a backup?  No.

Can I see all the people I’ve tagged in the app and have it pull up all that person’s pictures? No.  Can I have it upload to Facebook an entire album in full resolution? No.  What about simple photo correction like Windows Live Photo Gallery?  No. Can I view all my pictures on a timeline of when I took them? No.

As for geotagging, I do mean more than just the city/state it was taken.  I mean to say that if you know you took a picture at the foot of the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, you should be able to tag it exactly there, not just to “Lincoln Memorial” if you so choose.

Again, this app is woefully underpowered and is not ready for primetime, nor power users.

Programming for Windows 8

The blog mentioned before states that you cannot program a Windows 8 app to accept input from a remote control.  If true, then this is a sad state of affairs for Windows, and would prevent a number of novel media playback apps from being as fully functional as they could otherwise be.  I for one would love to create a metro app that accepts remote control input to navigate the screen.  Imagine creating a set-top PC, opening this app, and using a remote control to navigate your purchased TV shows and movies, and music from the comfort of your living room.  You can then navigate to your pictures and show off your vacation pictures to guests from your couch…with a remote.  That is what I would pay for as included functionality in Windows 8 (Media Center, anyone?).  Unfortunately Media Center, the ideal place for this, is being deprecated in this release.  It deserves a massive upgrade, such as support for mkv, mpg2, embedded subtitles, multiple audio tracks, ogg formats, metadata editing and storage, podcast support, and content purchase.

Skype

I’ve attempted to use Skype on Windows RT, and it seems incredibly hit and miss.  Windows Live Messenger was MUCH better at video calling.  For some reason, wi-fi calling to an iPhone on Verizon just results in a lot of frustration.  If you use Skype, it should just work.  I should be able to go to my People Hub, tab a button “Video Call” and have it open a video call window, not spend 30 seconds opening the Skype app and logging me in, then starting the call.  This experience needs to be improved a great deal before this can be recommended for people to use it regularly.

Since Skype is replacing Live Messenger soon, a few Live Messenger features I’ve come to enjoy and expect from an instant messaging client: importing custom emoticons at will, rich text formatting (bold/italic/underline, using any fancy fonts installed on my machine, colors), sharing youtube videos in-line with my IMs, sharing files with my friends through IM, remote desktop to view a friend’s desktop and control it with their permission, saving my messaging history to a local file on my computer, and playing games through the IM client.  Without these features, I will not be using Skype for IM.  I’ll likely just text and e-mail again.

Social Integration

Microsoft’s Socl network should be integrated into People and the rest of the Operating System to encourage adoption.  Facebook and Twitter require a dedicated app, not just pinning the website.  Posting albums from X-Box Music to Facebook should work just like on the Zune HD, where the album art is posted, with the album, artist, and song title, and a link back to the Zune Marketplace.  If you listen to songs, albums, artists, or playlists, you should be able to post that to one or more social networks so that people can like/comment and view/stream/download the item in question from the People Hub, or from Facebook itself.  A Media tab must be integrated into the People Hub profile to display music and videos listened to that match something within the Marketplace so you can share, like, and comment on them.

Store (for Music and Video)

Given the rise in e-Books, along with electronic magazine and newspaper subscriptions, and textbooks, it would be great to have a built-in Windows 8 bookstore, perhaps a partnership with Amazon for deeper OS integration, so that I could subscribe to my favorite newspapers, magazines, and comics, and have a live-tile notice of when new issues arrive.  Additionally, your audiobooks could appear in the e-Book app as well.  To make it even more personal, a social feed could be added like the People and Pictures hubs in Windows Phone, so I can see when friends have started reading or finished books, and I can like/comment on those books to get recommendations, and if I like the book, tap the book cover to go purchase it myself from Kindle or the e-Book marketplace.  If privacy concerns are warranted, the user can have a Facebook button to decide to post to FB that they’re reading something.

An additional feature for this more integrated bookstore would be to include a “Zune-iversity” or “X-Box U” section for educational books, textboooks, and podcasts, so that teachers can post their textbooks, students can purchase them at a discount to the print version, and include much richer content than a plain book could have.

Travel

This is a nice app showing me lots of destinations with blurbs about them, but it’s not easily discoverable what the point of it is.

The search flights, search hotels options should be front page, and again, the option to pin the app bars to the screen so that I can always see them would be great.  This would be a place where Local Scout could integrate to show me restaurants, sites, and local events to make the most of my trip.

For this app, it would be great to be able to enter a timeframe, say Nov 4-10, and a few destinations, and have the app find the shortest route, recommend a few places to stay, and have the option to see restaurants (filtered by ‘chain,’ ‘local only,’ ‘cheapest,’ etc.) and sights (‘free’ ‘cheap’ etc.) that might be of interest so that I can make the most of my trip.  Then have it calculate the cost for me so that I can see what the trip will run, my travel times between destinations, and how much time I’ll have at each place.

When I finish, it should also allow me to save that trip, along with any pictures I mark as having been taken on that vacation and check-ins, into a Skydrive folder so that I can send the vacation to friends and family, and they can virtually walk through the vacation I took.  That would make for a great app experience.

Addendum: Now that I’ve looked, I can see the Frommer’s content, but it’s far to the right, where no one would find it.  This needs to be front page so I can see attractions, nightlife, shopping, etc. from the front page, not 5 swipes to the right as it currently is.  The ability to get reservations from within the app for hotels, flights, restaurants, and purchasing tickets for any museums or tours would be a great feature for this app.

Viewing the hotels, it would be great to click on the neighborhood and have it bring up a map so I can see where it is, and what’s nearby regarding restaurants, museums, churches, etc.

Windows Phone 8

If you have a Windows Phone 8 device, the sync software for Windows 8/RT is the most worthless piece of code in existence for it.  There’s no way around that.  Zune had wireless (wi-fi) synchronizing of playlists so that if the playlist changed, your playlist on the phone was always up to date without you ever having to do anything.  There are no conversion options to save mobile storage space (like Zune had).  Seriously, you have to go back to Windows Media Player from 2009 to set up a sync relationship for this.  How do you think that looks to a current Apple or Android user, Microsoft?  Do you think that this will make that person want to switch?

Windows Update

I am going to have to agree a bit with this article from ZDNet concerning Windows Update.  It’s time Windows Update got some feature improvements.  This article shows one glaring problem: I actually have to save what I don’t want to lose manually.  The technology is already here to auto-incrementally save my documents so I don’t need to do it myself.  OS X does this in its most current iteration, so I don’t think it would be that difficult to do it in Windows.

X-Box Music and Video

If you’ve used X-Box Music or Video, you will know what I’m talking about.  They are incredibly and sorely lacking in features and their user interfaces are way too focused on the marketplace over my collection, and the way they arrange items is very wasteful of limited screen real estate.
Compare this (TV Library Media Center Plugin):

JackLuminous’ TV Library plugin for Windows 7 Media Center
X-Box Video purchased TV Series listed by season

You can see in the first, how JackLuminous’ TV Library plugin for Windows 7 Media Center makes much more efficient use of space than X-Box Video does on your Surface Tablet.  It uses DVD covers to tell you which show is which, and this makes perfect sense.  It also has pivots so you can resort your shows the way you want to – by title, genre, airdate, decade, rating, person (actors), and favorites.  Why doesn’t X-Box video do the same?  How about showing us JUST the DVD covers, and have a tap-hold right-click menu to ‘play series’, ‘edit metadata’, and ‘explore series’ and have the default tap be ‘explore series’ to view the series detail page?  Wouldn’t that make sense?  Instead of using pivots, X-Box Video (XBV) makes us swipe over and over to the right, whereas Windows 7 Media Center gives us pivots.  Tap, done.  Zune HD even had this one better.  You tap or swipe and all your media was resorted, like pages.  Zune on desktop did this for sorting TV shows and Movies from each other.  So why doesn’t XBV do this same thing?
When you want to see the seasons, you tap into the series to see them:

TV Library season view

To get to something remotely sensible in Video, you have to tap “Explore Series” to get a pop-up, then you have to click View Seasons to get into the TV show page, then swipe to the right to even get to the seasons, at which point the episodes within that season still show in a pop-up.

Explore a series from the Collection screen
X-Box video’s view of a series page. No seasons, just a huge image

This takes too long to get to.  Two taps whereas JackLuminous figured out how to do this with one tap.  Come on, X-box video, you’re better than that.

X-Box Video Series List of Seasons

The above two views can be combined to stop wasting space.  Have the graphical background from the season page, seasons listed right, tap to expand to a season page listing out all the episodes like Media Center’s TV Library plug-in.  Much more logical than the current layout.  Plex figured this out.  Zune Desktop figured this out.  One single page makes more sense than forcing me to continually swipe to the right to see my own TV shows I purchased.

Season view of episodes, still a pop-up

You can see here that the list of episodes comes up in a tiny little popup, where I can’t see all the episodes, or at least more than just a few at a time.  Even worse, my own videos that I spent time in categorizing in Zune cannot be categorized in X-Box Video.  But compare the TV Library view of episodes:

TV Library episode view, more graphical, and better use of screen space.

Much more graphical, with a nice background, episode synopsis, title, airdate, and thumbnail.  X-Box video can keep the list, but how about a list if episodes to the right, with airdate, run-time, and a synopsis along the bottom and a graphical background for the season?  This kind of metadata is readily available at thetvdb.com, so this isn’t too terribly difficult to do.  This interface would work in the “Modern UI” style exactly as it is, or you can even have seasons as pivots, scrolling up on each ‘page’ to see that season’s episodes, then pivot right to see season 2, 3, and so on.  How much more sense does that make, and ease of discovery over X-Box video’s current design decisions?

What JackLuminous does that would be useful in X-Box Video would be to have the TV Shows sortable with pivots for title, genre, year, airdate, and cast.  That way, I can see what aired today in my library, along with what sci-fi shows I have, or what shows David Boreanaz has been in that I own or are available on the X-Box store.

Now, about Movies.  When you look in X-Box Video:

Movie Library in X-Box video. Notice the wasted space to the right of all the DVD covers.

Now, check out the same thing in Media Center:

Movie Library in Windows 7 Media Center. Larger, more graphical, better use of space.

Media Center has this much better with pivots at the top so you can resort your way, and tap to view details about the movie you select.  X-Box Video would do well to copy this interface.  How about this: show a grid of movies like Win7 Media Center, tap to view the detail view, where you see the widescreen graphic movie poster from the movie, synopsis right, cast and crew pivots also, and a play button to start the film, and an ‘add to playlist’ option as well.  Take a queue from Zune’s Marketplace view of movies for this.

Moving to the next, X-Box Music.  Again, the Marketplace is given center stage, when I don’t really care.  I want MY MUSIC FIRST.  Not a setting change, by default.

X-Box Music halfway between my music and the now playing main screen. Note the wasted space next to the albums for text. Why?

Why can’t X-Box Music show just the album covers and just have pop-up Live-Tile text for the album title?  That would save space.  Make the albums 500×500 or 400×400 so they’re large enough for tap targets and titles.

Now when looking at my music:

X-Box Music Collection. Notice the wasted space, and how long it would take to get to “The Who” or “Third Day” without jumplists.  The album covers are tiny, and don’t make use of the nice artwork the artists put there, whereas Media Center:
Music Library in Media Center. Notice how it looks more graphical, and does not waste space to the right of the album covers.

Three albums high, much more efficient use of space.  Tap and you get the album pop-up.  Pivot to artist and you get an artist page with albums on the front page.  Not with X-Box Music.  You again have to tap “explore artist” then swipe far far to the right to get close to your albums.  Again, a cue from Media Center would be very useful for X-Box Music.  Or take my suggestion for Video, and do this: make the front page contain all the albums (like Zune), show ALL ALBUMS so you can scroll through without having to tap ‘view all albums’ – that should be allowable by default.  You would do well to take your visual cues from the Zune software and Zune HD here, X-Box team.

From the blog post on Paul Thurrott’s site, I can’t verify this since I have a Zune subscription, but apparently the app displays ads while playing your own music, and stops every hour to ask you if you’re still there, even while typing, a prompt that will only stop if you subscribe.  Again, I can’t verify this, but if this is true, why would anyone in his or her right mind think this is a good design decision to nag a paid customer of your operating system just to play his own music?  Windows Media Player never did this.  It just played.  Zune never did this.  It just played.  So why would X-Box Music do this?

Additionally, where are podcasts?  I see no way to view them or add new ones or subscribe, nor do I see any way to separate out my audiobooks, which now take up space inside my music collection.  That’s sloppy handling, and should certainly be corrected.

If you decide to purchase a Windows Phone 8, XBM and XBV don’t really do much for you, as Zune once did.  You cannot set a playlist to synch with the phone so that whenever the playlist changes on the computer, it synchronizes automatically with the phone without your intervention.  Zune did that.  XBM doesn’t.  Zune even had Wi-Fi sync with the WP7 devices, something that oddly, WP8 and XBM cannot manage to do.  This is pretty poor coding to lose such an ability.  Windows Media Player can set auto-playlists based on certain criteria, as shown here, but for some reason, X-Box Music can’t do that exact same thing.  Why must we lose functionality as we “progress” up an operating system?

Microsoft, you really really need to make music sync and library management a priority (amongst the other things listed in this post), so that choosing your ecosystem over Apple will make the transition easy and painless and make current users utterly happy, and Apple users question why they ever went Apple in the first place.

Aside from the usability, how about TV Shows?  There’s no way to have a season pass to a show automatically download a file to your Surface so that it’s ready for you when you open the app, no way to set a notification to say “You have 3 new episodes ready to watch” and go see which shows just downloaded for you.  The main screen of this app should allow you to set it to show your collection first, with a set notification to see the new shows since you last opened the app, and then a link to the marketplace to see what else is new.  Additionally, there is no way to ‘follow’ a show or ‘request’ a show to indicate to Microsoft that that one show you like, say, “Get Smart” or “Star Trek” or something else, is something you would like to see and would purchase.

When purchasing in XBV, there is no way to set the download to always occur in SD or HD, and takes 3 or 4 screens to complete, which takes too long in my opinion.

The Television Store doesn’t have any alphabetical list of all TV shows.  I don’t know the genre of some TV shows, and having an alphabetical list makes more sense to me than going through 15 genres, which are also not alphabetized, to find the one show I want.  Is it seriously that difficult to alphabetize your wares?  And release date is not terribly useful, in my opinion.  What about airdate?  If I’m looking for 80’s cartoons, why not show the series by genre (animation) and then by airdate?  That way I can get shows from around the same timeframe and see possibly related items; speaking of that, why not show ‘people who bought this series also purchased xyz’ on a TV series page?

There’s no easy way to return to my collection’s home screen overview.  I have to keep pressing back, which often times looks incredibly unresponsive.  Media Center had a persistent home button on it.  Also, posting to Facebook what I’m listening to is a bit difficult.  From the Now Playing screen, if I do Share > Facebook, it shares the Artist I’m listening to, not the song.  I would assume that I am sharing the song I’m listening to first off, and second, if not that, I would like the option to also share the album, artist, and playlist I’m listening to so that my friends can see the music as well.  Doesn’t that make sense?  Also, why does the share function send a generic graphic to Facebook instead of the album art for that specific MP3?

For those who have large collections, such as myself, if I happen to move my music from one hard drive to a completely new hard drive, Zune never understood this, and I had to manually delete the old entries from the library and manually re-add them, and manually recreate every single playlist.  Windows Media Player at the least would offer to remove items no longer found from the library.  X-Box music from what I’ve seen, continues the behavior of Zune and does not know that you’ve moved your music, refused to play, and refuses to scan your hard drive to find your music after you’ve moved it.  This would be a very welcome feature for those of us who add larger hard drives to our computers as time goes on and we acquire more digital files.

Another sticking point is when opening a file from the Desktop (since managing a library in X-Box music is utterly impossible, especially given the utter lack of podcast support for some mysterious reason), and I turn off the screen, after a while, the volume-based play controls and the play controls on X-Box music turn unresponsive and do not actually pause the music or podcast I’m listening to.  Zune didn’t have this problem.  Windows Media Player didn’t have this problem.  But X-Box Music does.  X-Box Music is not ready for mainstream use.

For the 1/3 snapped view for X-Box Music, it should ideally look just like the Zune HD’s home screen did, and when playing, just like the Zune HD’s now playing screen.  That way, I can swipe through album covers, tap the song list to get to the list of songs, play/pause easily, and just play all My Music by pressing the nice play button sitting next to music.  How easy would that be?

From Now Playing, the song list should just appear on the right-hand side like it already does in Zune and on X-Box.  I shouldn’t have to tap to get it to appear.  That’s extra work I shouldn’t have to do.  Again I ask: Who allowed this and X-Box Video to be released in such unfinished states?

Other Things

How do I subscribe to RSS feeds?  I see no way to do this built in to the OS.  This would be a great news reader and showcase for live tiles, as well as showing off synchronization of the feeds between my phone, PC, and tablet.

Where are the Facebook and Twitter applications?

Where can I purchase audiobooks from X-Box Music?  And can we get a built-in magazine, newspaper, comic book subscription app from Microsoft, with deals from publishers so that I can get my NY Times, Florida Times Union, Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, Scientific American, Discover, Game Pro, Electronic Gaming Monthly, X-Men, Batman, etc. all in one app?  This would be a great place for live tiles to show me how many new issues I have of a comic or magazine.  But, then again, if this app were created by the same people who created X-Box Music and X-Box Video, I’m not sure I’d want it.

Concluding this short post, I would say that Microsoft needs to update all the apps and Windows RT to make sure that its core features and app features are at the very least on par with what is found NOW on the iPad 4 to compete reasonably with that product, and to succeed in the marketplace and take marketshare from Apple and Google, Microsoft will need to innovate RAPIDLY with this OS and their apps, provide well constructed first and third party apps, and keep pace with the changes the competition makes so that it doesn’t fall behind.  The question is, will Surface, Windows RT, and Windows 8 and their apps be a Zune, or will they be an X-Box / Windows 7 story?

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s