On the eve of the consumer launch of Windows 10, I’m reminded of an oft-repeated theme in tech: That the idea of future technology can sometimes get way ahead of the reality. Sony had created a gorgeous modern apartment at its show booth, and one of its primary features was the idea of screens everywhere. There were several unbelievably small short-throw projectors strewn about the place, each able to instantly transform a nearby wall into a display, showing any information the user wanted.
It sounds amazing, but when you start to question how such a system would know exactly what you want to see, and how it accesses that content, it quickly breaks down under the complexity of the task. The specific problem here is context: How does the system anticipate your needs, possibly before you even know them?
That happens to be exactly the problem Windows 10 will look to solve. We know this because it tried a dumbed-down hardware-based solution to this problem in Windows 8/8.1. And it was a disaster. Microsoft and its OEM partners offered up many different takes on “hybrid” devices that could adapt to how you were using it — some were even good — but the software, Windows, was never quite smart enough to adapt on its own.
Microsoft has already shown it’s thinking about this with Windows 10’s “continuum” feature, but Microsoft’s planned integration Cortana in the OS can make a big difference. Cortana is often referred to as the voice assistant in Windows Phone, but the project actually has much larger ambitions; Cortana is all about interpreting user needs, some obvious (tell me the weather every day); some subtle (suggesting apps based on downloads and use).
With Cortana hard-wired into Windows 10 (almost a given at this point), a PC will theoretically have the capability to learn how you use it and adapt to your many contexts. This needs to happen in order to fully realize the promise of multi-modal form factors that began during Windows 8. A Windows 10 hybrid should be able to know what hardware it’s connected to, what most users prefer in various configurations, and most important, what its owner prefers.
In the lead-up to Windows 10, there’s been a lot of focus on fixing mistakes, and notable retreats like the return of the Start Menu. Re-anchoring users with familiar signposts is important, but Windows 10 needs to look forward as much as it looks back. And if it gets device context right, Windows 10 won’t just be fixing damage from Windows 8; it’ll be fulfilling its promise. Read more…