This is Microsoft’s vision of the next 10 years of interface. It’s a giant iPad next to a giant Surface.

I mean, just look at this giant touch screen. Who can even touch the buttons at the top?

What Microsoft imagines as a naturalistic action is banging one screen against another screen.

And then they put the exact same interface that was on a Windows phone onto a giant display. The content isn’t richer or more meaningful. You just won’t need glasses.

One legitimately wonderful moment in the video is when a cook holds a pepper up in the air, and asks the computer to figure out how to cook with it (from sight alone).

But then Microsoft visionaries have to complete the interaction, so they have him smear his capsaicin-coated hands all over the kitchen display. Who thinks touch screens are a good idea for anywhere as messy as kitchens?

And here we see the saddest moment. A little girl supposedly ignores her adorable, plush lion for a poor facsimile on a gigantic TV, surrounded by a dozen digital picture frames. Digital picture frames?? Is anyone still making those?

Co.Design

Microsoft’s Vision Of The Future Is Trapped In A Box

Unless you want to live your life in a sports bar, it’s time that our best technology companies begin to think beyond the screen.

There are shots of this film that reek of parody. But it’s all completely real. This is Microsoft’s earnest vision of the next decade. Sadly, it’s at least a decade dated.

You can’t miss the single motif of innovation: touch screens!!!!!! They’re televisions, projectors, and picture frames. Microsoft proposes a giant, glowing rectangle for every room, surrounded by an army of more glowing rectangles. They pull tiny rectangles from their pockets to interact with the big rectangles. And then they pass information from the big rectangles back to the small rectangles. In Microsoft’s future, there’s a rectangle for every job. If you were to put all these rectangles on a giant keyring, you’d have Microsoft’s vision of a Swiss Army Knife.

It would be funny if it weren’t so gut-wrenchingly sad to watch. You can almost feel some suit at Microsoft reasoning that if a nine-inch iPad sells 100 million units, then a 90-inch iPad will sell a billion. So they just lean a giant iPad against the wall, right next to some giant Surface table. After all, consumers fell in love with touch-screen tablets after touch-screen phones. It’s time for some supersizing! But just making something bigger isn’t innovation.

Here’s Microsoft’s problem in a nutshell: There’s a scene in this video where a little girl is looking at a lion on a screen in her bedroom. Beside her, ever so subtly, you see that a real, stuffed lion is lying beside her.

One lion is soft, touchable, and has the distinction of being just hers. The other is flat, pixelated, and generic, thanks to algorithms. Which lion evokes an emotional response? Which lion will that little girl want to snuggle up with tonight? Better still, which lion was she touching in the first place?

Microsoft, this video is not the future, and if anyone outside your marketing department thinks it is, I hope they’re at least smart enough to short sell their own stock options. Even Apple, the company that owes most of its success to these magic, touchable rectangles, is already moving on from the paradigm, easing the consumer into a world where hardware enables naturalistic gestures that keep us in tune with our surroundings.

Look at what Disney Research—doing what’s essentially theme-park R&D—is creating with tangible interface. They’ve built a universal system that allows you to touch any object, even living plants, with multitouch sensitivity. You know what one of their head researchers, Ivan Poupyrev, told me this week?

“If a remote control can grow, and in nature it can become responsive, that’s interesting to us. Plus, plants are everywhere. Instead of trying to build and replace existing infrastructure, can we use what we have already intelligently? Maybe remote controls are more efficient, but in living spaces, it’s about more than efficiency. It’s about quality of life.”

Microsoft, very little you’ve shown here isn’t technically possible today. So what you’ve really tried to sell us on here was the future of interaction. But design is, at its core, about crafting things for human use. That’s why the future of interface isn’t about digitizing the analog world, it’s about analoging the digital world. We don’t need 80-inch big screens filled with 2-D interfaces around every corner. In fact, that’s a sickening proposition. We need the world we’ve already got, full of all the wonderful things we’ve already built, to understand and respond to our touch with all of the knowledge of the Internet.

Break free from Windows, Microsoft. There’s a whole world waiting for you through the glass.

See the film here.

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21 Comments

  • Matt MacLaurin

    As a design critique this article is a complete fail. It obsesses on a single issue - the shape of the screen - and neglects to observe, explore, or critique a single element of the interactions. Not that the interactions are perfect; just that this article is incredibly lazy, starts from a premise (um "Microsoft sucks," apparently) and then fails to prove anything beyond a superficial snarkfest.

    As for gestural UI - if Apple had done with Primesense what Microsoft did with Kinect, this writer would clearly be over the moon. So let's give a little credit.Sounds like someone was late on their deadline and a few coffees past their threshold of rational thought.I expect better from a magazine with pretensions of true design insight.

  • Nikhil

    I appreciate SC's comment, as well as Ronan's. But EZR's comment resonates the most. I wonder what was the intent and the context behind the video, as MS has done some great R&D work in this space, some other comments mention Kinect as it has been marketed. But, even in the purely research space, Sensor Map and other "projects" by MS have been pretty futuristic. This article no doubt has an anti-MS feel to it. And Mark, having read some of your other articles, I don't think you're particularly fond of MS.

    Having said all this, MS marketing team have shot themselves in the foot, if they feel this is going to be "the" future. I doubt it will be so restricted and narrow. Whether MS will have a say in it or not remains to be seen.

  • SC

    A gut-wrenchingly sad article to read. Stop hating and start thinking intelligently. I suspect if those rectangles had rounded corners and the Company was Apple, this would have been written lot differently.

  • Nahmen

    You might want to read through some of Mark's Apple related articles before declaring him a fanboy. He's just fulfilling a quota - all of his opinions are as bitter and poorly thought through as the ones presented here.

  • Mick

    Sure the video might seem “a decade dated” but why is this article purely based on this?

    You talk of “Microsoft's problem” which doesn't actually exist. If you were to look beyond a promo video (which for some reason has you so convinced that this is all MSFT know) you'd find a company that spends Billions of dollars on cutting edge R&D.

    It might be worth checking out this well written article which tackles what this post stumbles over head on: http://www.pcworld.com/article...

  • pagolami

    What was strangely missing is the interaction possible without touching the screens....made possible by microsoft's very own kinect (or the patented future of kinect). This is a poorly made video by their marketing dept. It's like someone tried to rip off Corning's vision of the future...
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

  • AJ

    As far back as I can remember, the Windows/Microsoft UI/UX has always been a thorn in their side. Their bureaucratic bs and corporate thinking always gets in the way of delivering a good product.

  • Nobody

    I worked there years ago.  The bureaucratic BS and corporate thinking is their biggest hindrance, I think--so many people there are set in their ways when trying to solve problems, and they keep going back to familiar solutions and methods even when they're not appropriate for the problem at hand.

    If anybody from MSFT management is reading: you need to clean the deadwood (both developers and management) from your ranks.  You have a lot of people that are riding the gravy train.

  • EZR

    Agreed they don't tell a compelling story here, the giant screens are silly, and the projections are uninspired examples of existing tech. MSFT marketing could stand a walk through MSFT's own R&D buildings for inspiration about what the future holds; aside from smarter voice and image interaction this is all today plus giant un-recyclable LED screens that were still >$20k at last check.

    Not sure whether you're aware that when you hold things up to Kinect they can be sampled, so you (or the lion) can be part of the story.

  • Lorenzo Hodges

    Mark, I guess it all depends on what you think Microsoft was after. I actually see nothing wrong with the video. It's actually a good prediction of what may be the reality in homes and offices in 5-10 years. Whilst the technologies in the video are largely in existence now, we could probably agree that they are not common place - not in the US, UK, or any developed/developing country. I wonder what Microsoft's intent was here though. If their intent was to consolidate the 'soon-to-be-available' possibilities for mass consumers, then I think this hits the mark. It just might serve to inspire some. If, however, their intent is to show fresh ideas on brand new innovations that will emerge, then it's not as impressive.

  • David Kart

    Great article! Microsoft has a narrow vision or no vision at all. What a waste of money. It just shows that Microsoft has no vision and there isn't any room for innovation. Microsoft will shrink to a medium sized software company in 5 to 10 years time if they keep this up.

  • Scott

    Microsoft actually has a lot of talented people, too bad they don't have a stronger backbone for firing the dead weight teams that damage the brand by producing this junk - see also, anything produced by their marketing teams, ever.

  • tN0

    Why didn't you mentioned the Kinect? Microsoft has already a product out that is moving away from touch and towards an even more "natural" interface.

    But I have to admit that this future vision video from Microsoft is the worst yet. The others are more futuristic.

    Oh and I don't understand why we don't see any hints at the soon-to-come IllumiRoom "holodeck" concept.

    Too many rectangles indeed.

  • Mark Wilson

    Things always end up on the cutting room floor.

    And yeah, it's obvious that many of the demos here are powered by Kinect. But it is interesting that Microsoft isn't leveraging its invisible eyes and ears here at all. Instead, the Kinect continues to serve as a screen-facing experience. Especially in places like the kitchen, talking to a Kinect and having it track your actions could breed some powerful, passive interactions.

  • Arman Nobari

    Fantastic article. Ingredients list floating sans rectangle on my kitchen counter? Very cool. My wall being a touchscreen - and only a touchscreen? Very uncool.

    I can only imagine the madness that would ensue if someone's kid got a hold of a box of crayons and ruined your $10,000 iWall.

  • Commentmonkey

    Yes - the gesture is the only future possible. Ill personally take rectangles everywhere before I trap myself in an Apple future

  • Ronan

    Great article, I read recently that the best way to predict the future is by subtracting things from the present with inherent limitations. It seems that Microsoft is trying to read the future onto the present and your point that the technology to support this vision already exists really affirms the lack of innovation here for me.

  • disqus_A1KWTfnqry

    But Mark, I think that Microsoft's vision of the future MUST be true because...the narrator has an English accent.  That alone shoots us deep into the 2020s, doesn't it?