In a recent post on the “Building Windows 8” blog, a great deal of effort went into explaining the ideas behind their implementation of the Metro mail app that was included in the Windows 8 Release Preview. They answered the question of why so few commands are easily accessible despite being long standing staples of the email medium, for example.
Overwhelmingly, the potential problems that people have complained about were addressed by noting that the choices made in the app’s design were to accommodate the use habits of their observed majority. This is probably the first thing I have run into that makes me wonder how viable this app will be moving forward.
It is a genuinely well designed piece of software. Assuming you are able to use it and don’t have to access your email using something as outlandish as IMAP, I recommend trying it out. The interface is smooth and intuitive for basic tasks, fairly easy on the eyes, and allows for an ease of use that Outlook will never begin to approach. All that is missing is interface configurability.
It is fine to focus your efforts on particular features based on the fact that those will have a much more profound effect on the majority of your users. When a feature is already available, however, and you go out of your way to hide it slightly in order to simplify the interface is when you have a problem. As much as I have heard this complaint about Metro in general, with some small experience it is generally faster and easier to use for daily tasks than the traditional desktop alternatives. Microsoft should continue this trend by offering increasing configurability for those users who don’t necessarily fit perfectly into their researched majority.
My main issue is simply in the hiding of slightly less common commands. I’m one of those people who actually uses the “Mark Unread” command with a degree of regularity. At the moment, it is slightly hard to spot due to having been pushed off into the app bar. Until now, the assumption has been that the final release would allow me to place some of my more frequently used functions in the ample space left alongside the Compose and Delete buttons.
This is still basically a beta release and Microsoft will obviously be pushing to improve things for the final product. Some of the things are easily guessed at, like somewhat configurable background shading to provide cleared distinctions between the three tiers of the app’s layout. It is troubling to see absolutely no comments about personalization in what could easily be a highly configurable experience.
Most of the decisions they have made here will work fine. A lot of thought has gone into how screen real estate is divided up among tasks, for example, and it shows. There is no way that any significant portion of the user base is going to want to run multiple concurrent email management applications, though. If the Mail app is going to be a successful part of the Windows 8 Metro push then they need to provide reasons to switch from Outlook. Streamlining will only go so far with something like this.