Platform Shifts

Steven Sinofski recently wrote about his experience in switching to an iPad Pro as a replacement for his laptop. This in itself isn’t particularly noteworthy, but before describing his own experience in switching to an iPad as a laptop replacement he spends some time discussing how broad shifts across computing platforms happen and why some people react with enthusiasm to these shifts while others resist them, depending on their needs, preferences and circumstances:

By far, the biggest obstacle to change is most people have jobs to do and with those jobs they have bosses, co-workers, customers and others that have little empathy for work not happening because you’re too busy or unable to do something you committed to, the way someone wanted you to do it.

[C]hange, especially if you personally need to change, requires you to rewire your brain and change the way you do things. That’s very real and very hard and why some get uncomfortable or defensive.

Now it’s worth keeping in mind that Steven Sinofski was president of the Windows division at Microsoft and a highly visible public face for the development of the rather controversial Windows 8. One of the criticisms leveled against Windows 8 was that it focussed too narrowly on tablet usage and in doing so compromised the usability of the typical keyboard-and-mouse desktop model, which is undoubtedly the predominant way of Windows usage to this day. Jakob Nielsen concluded in his usability assessment that “Windows 8 UX [is] weak on tablets, terrible for PCs”.

In that light I find the following observation (a variation of Amara’s Law) quite interesting, because it might just explain some of the reasons behind the Windows 8 design direction, but also why it ultimately backfired and failed:

As difficult as they are, we more often than not over-estimate platform shifts in the short term but under-estimate them in the long term.