In the past few decades PC operating system vendors have introduced a lot of features to improve file and app management on personal computers. Things like file tags, meta data, Windows Libraries, macOS Smart Folders, aliases, shortcuts, various built-in folders, virtual desktops, specialized file viewers, quick launchers, start menus, built-in search, and most recently voice commands.
Yet despite all the progress our desktops still become covered with icons, the downloads folder still gets filled to the brim with files we aren’t sure we need anymore, and files still get misplaced on a regular basis. A lack of real innovation has meant the problems users experience today managing their files and applications are not significantly different from those of 30 years ago.
Part of the reason there has been a lack of real innovation in recent years stems from the decision of OS vendors to prioritize converging touch screen device features into PC interfaces.
Doing so, to a certain extent, makes sense.
When the first popular touch screen smart phone came on the scene in 2007 it broke a lot of preconceived rules about design and organization and we all immediately fell in love.
At the same time PC sales started to slow down. Naturally the easy way to entice consumers to buy a new PC would be to make it look similar to something they already undoubtedly loved — their smart phone.
Among other smartphone inspired features, Apple brought the wall of shiny hard candy wrappers look of iOS to MacOS X with Launch Pad in 2011 and Microsoft brought the we-are-different-from-iOS look of the Windows Phone into Windows 8 with Live Tiles in 2012. Apparently the fact that the wall-o-icons look resembles a messy desktop and that multi-page home screens were a forced design afterthought did not dissuade either party.
Neither effort seemed to delight users. Microsoft pulled back on Live Tiles with Windows 8.1 and Apple is not mentioning LaunchPad much anymore. PC sales, however, have been continued to decline following the great OS convergence efforts of 2011–2012.
The new feature we are all now supposed to be excited about is the ability to talk to our PCs with Cortana and Siri. Voice commands on our smart phones kept us excited for a while, so hopefully it will do the same with our PCs.
Or maybe not.
While it makes sense to unify touch screen and personal computer interfaces in some way, it seems the features being integrated are the least thought-out and most gimmicky.
It seems like the perfect time to take a step back, clean the slate and try something completely new with a focus on underlying simplicity — not another gimmicky feature for the presentation layer.