Windows 8.1 – It’s getting there

This post will describe some of the features that Windows 8.1 has and what I believe to be useful or otherwise helpful additions to add to the next release of Windows, in addition to my prior post on the topic.  What we have seen so far, including the new Start button, more personalization, and more business-friendly options, should be the beginning of more rapid feature enhancements by Microsoft.  By “rapid” I mean on the course of every 3 months or every 6 months, not once a year.  The competition is changing rapidly, and Microsoft needs to do the same.

Book, Comic, Magazine, and Newspaper Notifications

Apple has their iBook app which puts in the ability to have newspaper and magazine subscriptions in the tablet.  Microsoft can do this and better in a single app.  Just sign up for electronic subscriptions to your favorite comics, magazines, and newspapers, and now with Nook being bought by Microsoft, books also.  Every time a book series, like Percy Jackson, has a new release, you would get a notification, giving you the opportunity to purchase the new book, or your favorite author, say, Dan Brown or someone else, has a new book out.  When a new issue of your favorite comic comes out, if you don’t have a subscription, you can check it out and see if you want to buy it, perhaps with a 1-/2- page preview.  Likewise with newspapers and magazines.  You can browse through, buy individual issues, or get subscriptions delivered electronically, with notifications telling you of new issues, or special editions.  This would be a driver of sales to the Windows 8 platform.  Include here textbooks, so you can have interactive textbooks, and with Surface Pro, you can write notes in your texts also.

Additionally, you can mark down books you’ve bought before, along with comics you bought, and magazines, so you can let the system start predicting comics, books, and magazines you might like based on what you’ve bought in the past.

Lock Screen Backgrounds

Now we can have our device act like a live picture frame, pulling in our pictures from various sources.  Can we determine specifically which sources, or is it everything?  It would be a bit embarrassing for pictures of an old girlfriend to show up when you’re with your current girlfriend, fiancée, or wife, that’s for sure.  Does the device have situational or locational awareness?  Imagine being able to choose pictures based on location, so if you’re in Paris, show only your pictures you took in Paris, or if you’re in the mountains of North Carolina, only seeing those pictures in rotation.  The device could also be set to show only pictures taken on today (so June 5th pictures would show on June 5th, June 6th on June 6th, and so on), or only pictures tagged with certain people (showing all pictures of just you, you and your wife/husband, just your kids, just your friends, etc.).  Another option for the Lock Screen, would be similar to how the Zune screensaver worked, with its different sized album covers that routinely flipped over to change to new album covers.  Here, have different-sized pictures you took flip over at certain intervals, showing you new pictures you may have forgotten you took.

Additionally, since we can have motion Start Screen backgrounds, why not motion backgrounds on the lock screen?  Imagine this Earth scene from space as a lock screen.

Movie and TV Notifications

There’s already an MSN Movies app on Windows Phone, and there should be one for Windows 8 also, so that you can mark upcoming movies with a ‘notify me when this movie comes out near me.’  That way, if you had signed up for notifications on ‘Man of Steel,’ then you would get a notification this week (June 10) that the movie’s coming out Friday, and On Thursday/Friday, links to buy tickets and a notification that the movie is out.  How much sense is that?  There are lots of movies you see that might be interesting that you miss out on, but with this, you would be reminded of those movies that you thought you might want to see.  Even better, mark down movies you’ve seen in this app, along with favorite actors and directors, and you can get notifications for those actors’ and directors’ next movies, along with predictive recommendations of movies you might like based on ones you’ve seen or own.

For the tie-in, when a movie you marked for notification comes out for purchase on X-Box Video (which should just be renamed back to Zune for simplicity’s sake), you get notified, and the notification takes you into XBV’s product page for that movie so you can rent or buy it, right there.  Simplicity, smart device, and help driving sales.

The same would apply for TV Shows, which you could mark either straight in XBV or in MSN TV.  You mark down shows you’ve seen that are in the catalog, and those that aren’t (same with movies), so that (1) you can get notified when new episodes are available for purchase, and (2) you can get notified when a show you liked is available for purchase.  That way, you don’t have to keep hunting every month to find out if the new season of Once Upon a Time or that season of Get Smart or Star Trek is available.  The app just pushes a notice out to you.

Music Notifications

There should be an option in X-Box Music to ‘follow’ artists and get notifications when they release a new album or single, as well as new concert dates nearby.  That way you don’t miss your favorite bands and their newest work.

Based on listening habits, Zune had Picks for you to discover new music, along with MixView.  This feature should carry over back into XBM.

Podcast Support

X-Box Music should include Podcast support, which Zune already does admirably, and was inexplicably dropped by whomever mis-programmed X-Box Music.  That software is a gray mess of emptiness and wasted space.  But it should fill some of that space with Podcasts, simply porting over the already excellent Zune podcast interface, and letting me get notifications when a Podcast has a new episode available.

Reading List

This is coming to Windows 8.1, allowing you to share web stories to a list you can read later.  What would be great would be sharing your reading list with your friends so that you can see what your friends are reading, within a specific ‘reading list’ app.  That way, I can scroll through and see that my brother added 5 new articles to his reading list, and two of those I thought were interesting, and the app would allow me to mark those as ‘liked’ or ‘interesting.’  This would be private and peer-to-peer, and not through Facebook, requiring explicit sharing, so you don’t have to worry about some people you don’t know seeing your reading list, like can happen on Facebook.

Search Results

The new Bing search results are nice, but panoramas having that little side-bit are not a big enough hint for older people or even me, someone relatively tech-savvy.  I won’t find something that’s tucked three virtual feet to the right in the search results, just like I didn’t find it in X-Box Music, which is a very poorly designed interface in comparison to Zune.  My response to the video Microsoft released about this feature is to add pivots to the top of the screen, so that you can see the kinds of search results that your query produced.  Using their example of Marilyn Monroe, you’d see the pivots: bio web movies music images related searches.  These would be persistent on top, and would rotate like the categories in X-Box Music on Windows Phone do when you swipe left or right.  You would be able to view the ‘bio’ pivot, and tap music to have that portion of results slide in, rotating bio to the left, just like you see on your phone, as a visual indicator that your search result focus has shifted.  It’s a little thing, but a visual indicator that would be helpful for older users to understand where they are in the system and that there are more options available than what they see.

Start Screen

When you have a pinned app on one side, a main app on the other, and you press the Start Button, the Start Screen takes over the entire screen, instead of just the area of the main app, causing your pinned app to stop doing what it was doing.  If you pin music or podcasts, then you have to go through restarting and repinning the app.  This would be much easier if the start screen would just take the 2/3 section of the screen.

It’s not a functional feature, but it would be nice to have parallax shifting and parallax scrolling on the Start screen.  The iOS7 has the first, but not the latter.  Parallax shifting makes it look like your icons are floating above the background you tilt the device, something that would add a bit of depth to the flatness that is Windows 8.  Adding in Parallax Scrolling would be even better, so that as you move the background, it appears to shift just like when you watch the countryside scroll by in a car ride, or when you played Super Mario World on SNES and had multiple layers of background scrolling past.  If you allow 3D background images, you could achieve the former, while the latter might require special software.

While I understand its purpose, it would be nice to have the small tiles on the bottom of the start screen to show active applications, so I can easily see which apps are active, or at least the ability to toggle such an option.

Start Screen Backgrounds

Now you can add moving backgrounds, where the demo video shows us a dragon tail moving as you swipe left and right on the Start Screen.  Even better, would be panoramic pictures with parallax scrolling.  Remember Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country, and the first time you saw them, there were three or five backgrounds scrolling along as you travelled the level?  That was amazing for the time, and something similar would be likewise amazing for the Start screen as well, in addition to just using our own panoramas (I have several through Photosynth that are between 15 and 25 MB in size and some up to 20,000px wide).  Seeing a panoramic mountain view while scrolling through your start screen would be impressive to say the least.  Finally, remember the motion backgrounds from Windows Vista?  They had waterfalls, ponds with rippling water, or even something like this ‘Dreamscene‘, Earth, or this Fire bloom on Youtube.  Add that to the start screen and even the Desktop.

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