A brave new world? What Windows 8 means for brands

Microsoft claims it will give marketers the chance to communicate with their customers "in a whole new way" - but what does Windows 8 really mean for brands? Warren Midgley from Kitcatt Nohr Digitas takes a look...

Windows 8 in action

As Microsoft rolls out Windows 8 – the most radical overhaul to its user interface in years – now is the time for brands to think, ‘what’s in it for me?’

As it has been designed to scale across desktop, tablet and mobile devices, one of the most obvious attractions is how Windows 8 can help brands build a true cross-platform strategy.

With Windows 8 designed to provide a consistent experience on whatever device it is being used, this is a convergence beyond what we’ve seen from Apple or other companies to date. So far, we have had a specialised OS and different apps for each type of device. Windows 8 makes it easier than ever to build apps that work on them all, introducing efficiencies we haven’t seen before.

The advantage Microsoft hope to gain is once someone has an app on one device, it will work on any other, and sync together. Microsoft have also made sure Windows Store apps can be coded using existing Microsoft developer tools and languages, as well as web standards such as HTML 5.

This all bodes well for brands wanting to take advantage of what Windows 8 has to offer, and those that can get apps out quickly will find they have a significant early-mover advantage. With little to choose from in the Windows Store, they could immediately attract downloads, although from an initially small user base. Although the return on investment from fishing in such a small pond will be slow at first, it’s worth brands and their agencies taking the plunge. Lessons learned from the first year of Windows 8 could be very valuable for when the competition hots up later on.

Very encouragingly, the advertising environment has been well thought through and ad placement in Windows 8 apps is well integrated, robust and seamless. It presents a world of opportunity for advertisers, and re-imagines what integrated ads really can do. Using HTML5, developers have the ability to dynamically and seamlessly thread ads through app content. These HTML5 ads can lead users to an interactive full-screen experience, and support animation, sound and interactivity.

So, this is rich territory to explore. However, brands and their agencies need to fully understand the big picture of Windows 8 before they can fully appreciate what it can do for them.

The main point is that Windows 8 is not just another operating system release from Microsoft. It is a total change to the user interface and introduces an entirely new type of software. The changes have been criticised in the press, but the detractors miss the point. This is a completely new way of using computers.

The main interface is a “Start screen” full of apps, displayed as live tiles that are continuously updated with dynamic information. Familiar desktop programs will still run on some Windows 8 versions, but the new ‘Modern User Interface’ will be the default that users see. Brands and their agencies need to learn how to design digital products for the Modern User Interface; they need to stop thinking icons and ‘desktop’ and start thinking ‘app’.

Microsoft is very aware there will be big resistance to a new way of doing things. It has taken a huge risk in changing the way people use their products – a brave move that will either sink or swim. Agencies need to follow suit and design in an equally brave way to achieve success on the new platform.

It’s still too early to tell if it will catch on, but it has the potential to reinvent the Windows brand. There is no question that this is the most radical change we’ve seen from Microsoft since 1995, when Windows 95 superseded Windows 3.1. It ventures into entirely new territory, redefining both the desktop and the mobile experience.

Warren Midgley is head of user experience at Kitcatt Nohr Digitas

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