The now infamous Steve Ballmer tirade of “Developers, Developers, Developers” has turned into one of the worst tech jokes around, however Microsoft seems to have tweaked it a bit for the launch of Windows Phone 7 Series with the inclusion of a 69 page PDF. They now seem to care immensely about designers.
Windows Mobile Apps have always been ugly and navigational nightmares. Microsoft’s native apps sucked and 3rd party apps sucked even more. With the launch of the Windows Phone 7 Series SDK Microsoft has obviously been studying Apple’s tactics as they just unveiled a 69 page document alongside the SDK launch entitled “UI Design and Interaction Guide” (Download). The document is strikingly similar to Apple’s “Human Interface Guidelines” it publishes for the Mac and iPhone OS designers and developers. These documents outline how to design intuitive apps for the platform. They outline the design goals for the platform and user expectations to be aware of, but they also dive into the nitty gritty details for good UI design like the correct margin and padding around buttons and which font colors are to be used in particular situations.
Why does this matter? Because people want polished thoughtful apps. Aside from one hit wonder apps like iFart, the majority of the longstanding top selling iPhone apps are impeccably designed and executed. They follow Apple’s conventions by default and stray only when it will actually enhance the user’s experience. Microsoft is going for the jugular with Windows Phone, trying to create the first true iPhone competitor.
They are dictating screen resolution, GPS, accelerometer, memory, CPU, even the number of physical buttons that can exist on a device. This level of control allows for manicured apps that will run well on every Windows Phone. This is critical. Android has struggled with this. They have not established a strong design language, which has led to a hodgepodge of app quality and interaction metaphors which makes it difficult to just “know” how a new app works. iPhone users generally know how a new app will work and this is good for users, developers, and Apple.
Microsoft signaling to designers that they care enough to author a document outlining the specifics of the platform at launch is big. It means they are serious about world class apps being developed, not just knock offs and shoddy ports. The question is, will designers and developers deliver?