Windows 8 (the touch part) is iPad, circa 2010 (barely)

The Windows 8 “Start Screen”: beautiful, but ultimately hollow.

The iPad celebrated its 3rd birthday the other day. Funny how dominant it has become in just 36 months.

I was taken back to those first moments with my first iPad back on April 3, 2010, as I explored Windows 8 on a Lenovo Yoga 13.

Not to suggest that the Yoga 13’s touch experience is as good as the first iPad’s, because it’s not. I’m referring to the act of digging through an app store to see how third party developers had pushed the capabilities of a new, unique device.

In the case of the iPad, I found the most amazing apps three years ago. The game Fieldrunners brought tears to my eyes. Omnigraffle made flowchart building physical and real. Stuff that blew my mind.

There’s nothing that awes me in the Windows 8 Marketplace. Nothing’s even made me smile. Most of the touch apps are reworks of existing (and better, and more capable) iPad apps rejigged aesthetically for the colourful Metro interface. It’s a collection of half-baked app ideas and pure, unequivocal junk. There’s no other way to put it.

I’m disappointed by this. I’m sort of blown away, actually. That in all this time, Microsoft barely managed to scrape together a response to the iPad that only begins to address the iPad experience of 3 years ago. Even worse, what little Microsoft managed to cook up has met with a dismal response from app developers. Clearly, Windows 8 excites no one.

What I’m especially disappointed with, though, is the drag that the included Windows Desktop puts on the Metro interface. You really can’t use a Windows 8 device without regularly visiting the Desktop, whether you want to or not. Metro apps redirect you there without warning constantly. It’s a dichotomous, dizzy experience that confuses and frustrates. Imagine Apple had built a “MacPad” that constantly tossed you between the Mac OS and iOS. To make matters worse, most apps have a Metro version and a Desktop version, each with a different use model, and you often don’t have control over which app will open when you want to access a resource.

But at least I understand now why Microsoft had to ship the Metro UI as a mere shellac over the traditional Windows desktop. There’s so little value to the Metro UI, and so few apps to leverage what limited opportunities it expresses, that any device shipping with just that touch interface alone would be, by and large, useless. Windows Desktop has to be on these devices just so users can actually do something with them. In short, Microsoft has no response to iOS.

I also get why Windows geeks are finding ways to hack Metro off of Windows 8. It’s largely superfluous.

Which is incredibly disappointing because I lovelovelove the Metro UI (who cares about the fact it’s not called that any more; it’ll always be Metro to me). Really. I love the idea of live tiles, and I love the organic nature of the interface, and I love the colour. It makes iOS look like a drab grab bag of stale chocolates in comparison to its joyful display.

So I’m heartbroken in a way. I wanted to fall in love with Windows 8. In fact, I preloved it. But as I use it more and more, it drives me away. It’s a selfish King Julian, all full of itself, that forgets to pay heed to the needs and interests of its loyal disciples.

It’s clear that Microsoft flubbed this one. Big time. They are so close to a compelling alternative to Apple’s system, the ideas are all there. The execution is dead wrong, however, and ultimately fails.