Modern UX for Windows gets mixed message from Skype
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Published on June 15, 2015
For the past few years, Microsoft has been working to convince UX designers to adopt their modern app design for Windows 8 and they are extending this to W. Modern apps can be created that work well with touch interfaces, and also support keyboard and mouse controls when they are available. Yet Microsoft has been offering two separate versions of its communications product, Skype. One version was designed for touch-screen devices and features the modern UX, while the other version was available for running on older versions of Windows.
The current strategy of offering two different app versions of Skype, presented a challenge. On a modern Windows 8 computer, users could install both versions of Skype on the same computer. In one case, the user would be taken back to the older interface that looks similar to Windows 7, known as the desktop interface. The other version of the Skype app would run as a modern app, with access to a touch optimized interface and controls. The two apps would need to be installed separately, but they effectively were separated by a digital DMZ, and neither would know about the other.
This week Microsoft decided to have only a single Windows app, and they elected to do away with the modern Windows 8 app with the UX optimized for touch screens. Soon if you get a new Windows 8 computer, you’ll be running Skype just like you would on a computer that was purchased many years ago – long before touch screens were available. If Microsoft is asking its app developers to create modern Windows apps for Windows 8 and soon for Windows 10, it is odd they discontinuing their own modern app. Skype is not just any app, it is one of the most widely used apps anywhere.
For UX designers, this is a mixed message from Microsoft regarding the importance of modern apps. In the UX courses at American Graphics Institute, especially the Windows 10 UX workshop, the idea of designing for touch is promoted. There is even have an entire course in the UX Certificate program dedicated mobile UX design which emphasizes modern UX design that incorporated touch as a key consideration. On modern Windows computers, whether a touch-screen laptop or tablet, if a device supports a touch interface, we encourage organizations to design and develop for touch input. With this move by Microsoft, they are de-emphasizing the UX impact of having a touch screen on Windows 8, and instead forcing users to rely primarily on keyboard and mouse input.
It appears that a touch-centric UX may be available on some future version of Skype for Windows 10, which will be released later this year. At that time, we may find Skype to be more tightly integrated to the operating system, maybe even fully integrated, rather than launching as a separate app. They may be removing a modern version of Skype as one way of encouraging Windows 8 users to update to Windows 10 once it is available. Of course supporting three versions of an app – Windows 10, Windows 8 for modern interfaces, and the legacy version does present a challenge to maintain. By removing the modern interface version, and making it so that these capabilities are available only through the Windows 10 operating system, it makes maintaining and updating the apps less complicated, as there will only be a single Windows Skype app. It is surprising that the Skype app that remains for Windows 8 isn’t the modern UX, rather, it is the old legacy desktop app. With the need to encourage developers to adopt modern UX, it is surprising that Skype wasn’t used as a showcase for developers on how to create an effective modern interface sold through the Windows Store.
Although there aren’t too many people working with Windows RT devices, it’s worth noting that these aren’t affected by this decision. The Windows RT version of Skype will still only run the modern UX, as it doesn’t support desktop apps.
When Windows 10 launches later this year, Microsoft will have an opportunity to align all its apps for a modern UX that is touch-first, while still supporting keyboard, mouse and trackpad input. Until then, the Skype UX for Windows 8 is taking one step forward and two steps back.
About the author
Jennifer Smith is a user experience designer, Photoshop expert, educator and author based in Boston. She is the author of more than 20 books on design tools and processes, including Adobe Creative Cloud for Dummies, Adobe Creative Cloud Digital Classroom, and Photoshop Digital Classroom. She has been awarded a Microsoft MVP three times for her work with user experience design in creating apps for touch, desktop, and mobile devices.
Jennifer delivers UX training and UX consulting for large Fortune 100 companies, small start-ups, and independent software vendors. She has been hired by Adobe and Microsoft to deliver training workshops to their staff, and has traveled to Asia, Europe, India, the Middle East, and across the U.S. to deliver courses and assist on UX design projects. She has extensive knowledge of modern Windows UX Design, having worked closely with the Windows team to create educational material and deliver UX workshops to key partners globally on behalf of Microsoft. Jennifer works with a wide range of prototyping tools including Fireworks, Photoshop, Illustrator, Blend for Visual Studio, and Balsamiq.