On Tuesday, November 27, Microsoft reintroduced itself to Vancouver with an exhibition of their Windows 8 holiday gadgets.
Hosted by The Loden in the heart of Coal Harbour, about 30 people enjoyed a hands-on Windows 8 experience with their canapés. The event was a joint effort between Microsoft and High Road Communications, and was smoothly run.
Guests weren’t lacking for choice: Microsoft provided no fewer than twelve devices for its guests to play with, and food and drink flowed freely. In the corner, a small child enjoyed Fruit Ninja for the Kinect. But what flowed most freely were the words.
The room was peppered with Microsoft’s marketing and PR representatives, each of them more excited for the future than the last. It was their enthusiasm that justified attending the event.
Any sense Microsoft may have had that they could treat the event as a debut of Windows 8 to the Vancouver market was ultimately misguided; video demonstrations of the vast majority of the tablets and ultrabooks displayed have been online for weeks—in the case of the Sony Vaio T Series 13, video reviews have been available for five months.
What was new was the united devotion across the staffers to the party line. The truth of the marketplace should be undeniable: there were 16 million iPads sold last quarter, and as of today, Apple has a 48% share of smartphone sales in the US. Android is nipping at Apple’s heels, consistently and constantly. The Windows 8 experience is beautiful, but people anticipating a tactile experience in the same vein as the still-standard Windows XP will be estranged by the renovations.
However, in the eyes of the evening’s staff, Microsoft is on the verge of "a hockey stick of excitement."
“The developer community’s been really responsive, we just came back from build on the last week of October. You’re seeing a lot of excitement about what people can do if they bring their content to that 400 million person audience,” said Paolo Pasquini, Consumer PR lead at Microsoft, who is unshakable in his faith. According to him, the audience has consistently reacted well to the devices they’ve been shown.
They’re loving the choices that they have available to them. The Yoga, we just got it in our hands on the plane from Toronto, and that’s lightweight, gorgeous form factor, and that’s been well-received. They’re seeing ultrabooks, tablets, smartphones, and they’re seeing that when they look at Windows 8, they have to look at it differently. They’re asking ‘Is that a PC?’ and the answer is yes, and they’re asking ‘Is that a tablet?’ and the answer is still yes. It’s a no compromise system. It is for work and play.
The devices lured out many local tech experts. One of them was Bradley Shende, host of ConnectedLife and the Shaw Tech Report, as well as the president of M2O, a digital media agency in Gastown. (Full disclosure: Bradley Shende is a former employer of mine.)
“There’s a lot of people in office cubicles that might experience Windows 8, and be confused at the beginning, since it’s a departure, but on the phone and on the tablet space, it actually represents a lot of thought, a lot of good design work and UX work," he says. "Is it too little, too late is the question—and the flipside of that question is, ‘Does it matter?’ When the people who don’t have a tablet or smartphone come looking, might they look at the UX and say, ‘Oh, that’s familiar, I can use that device, it’s exactly the same as the [stuff] I use at work—can [Microsoft] play and market that effectively? We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
Paolo was prepared for the doubt.
“There’s two ways to look at that question," he offers. "The North American view—well, let’s have this conversation four years ago and talk about how we don’t stand a chance against RIM. There’s no such thing as too little too late in technology, because it changes so rapidly, consumer interest and consumer adoption both change. We’re giving a UI to phone, Xbox, and PC that is now Microsoft owned. This is our visual moment. This is the people’s UI.”
However long it lasts, it was worth a good look. It’s hard to get a clear view of Windows through this fog of hype—but it will clear. When it does, here’s hoping that Windows seems as polished as ever.