Windows 8 Metro UI, Tablets and Mobility – Let's talk about the Mis-Match

Posted on 14 October 2011 by

IMG_7659_thumb2Many of us have downloaded the Windows 8 Developer Preview to give it a test run and I think it’s fair to say that the most exciting feature to test is the Windows 8 Metro UI. Focused on touch, app-snacking, consumption and entertainment it has been an interesting product to think about in terms of mobile computing; real mobile computing. Getting the balance of UI right for both on-the-go and bum-on-seat activities hasn’t been achieved by anyone yet. Windows 8 is the big hope for that in the future.

Not only does Windows 8 introduce this interesting Metro UI and apps layer, it also approaches quick-startup and efficiency. In testing it over the last few weeks on four mobile devices, I’m not as positive as a was a month ago about the Metro UI although it’s way better than anything I’ve experienced as an overlay on Windows before and ultimately, I’m enjoying its responsiveness, sharing sub-system, full-screen Explore browser and dynamic nature. There are some serious issues to talk about though.

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The first is that while Metro works on low-resolution devices, the apps won’t because they require a minimum of 768 pixels vertically. For the side-by-side snap feature, you need 1366 pixels minimum width. There are also major issues when working in portrait mode – something that isn’t really supported at all. The resolution restriction seems crazy when you consider the cost and size of 1366×768 screens. I don’t see anyone producing that at 7″ and as it’s not compatible with 1024×600, 100 million netbooks users are going to be left out.

[Ref – Screen size recommendations for Windows 8]

You might argue that we just need much higher resolution screens. I’ve tried Windows 8 on a 1280×800 screen at 5.8″ and yes, Metro apps work. Text might need a little enlargement here and there but it works. Some issues remain though. Touchscreens can’t be recessed otherwise it’s not easy to find the magic swipe that expose the hidden menus on the right and bottom left corner. Forget resistive screens. That’s not such a big deal considering the level of capacitive and digitiser deployment and it’s also not much of an issue for the classic Windows UI either as that’s the one you’ll be using who you’re docked at your desk. The other issue comes with cost and battery drain. High resolution screens are expensive to produce, especially if you want one that’s readable outdoors. There’s also the power cost in terms of the display electronics and the graphics power needed to control it. Given that most people are more than happy with 200ppi, a higher density in a 7″ frame is counter-productive, at least for large-font Metro. People with perfect eyesight may disagree with 200ppi but I regard it as a good trade-off point for screen design.



Windows 8 Metro UI in Portrait Mode

It’s unfortunate that the developer preview is indicating that portrait mode isn’t encouraged. All the apps in the preview fail to work efficiently in portrait mode despite that fact that in portrait mode you get the best split-screen keyboard experience and preservation of screen real estate.

I agree with those that say portrait is useless on a top-heavy device of 2lb or more but what about 2013, 2014 when 10” Windows 8 tablets could be under 1lb and when even the 7” form factor could be possible with a hi-res screen?

To demonstrate what I mean here, I’ve made a video showing the Windows 8 developer preview on an ExoPC in portrait and landcsape modes.


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  • FirnBirn

    Chippy, like MS you’re thinking in the way of the old. If MS had designed the UI properly there should be absolutely NO readability issues of high PPI small screens. But instead MS has decided to design W8 in the same way as previous Windows, 1:1 pixel dependence. For people who don’t understand, a simple example would be to take the same size screen with 2 different resolutions. On the screen with the higher resolution everything will be smaller but more information will fit.

    If people wan’t to see the proper way of designing a UI, although not perfect, Android does a remarkable job of eliminating hard-coded pixel dependence & instead relying on PPI. This is why you can have 4″-ish Android devices with resolutions from 800×480, 960×540, 1280×720, etc & they will fit almost the exact same amount of information on the screen (everything will just be alot sharper with higher resolutions). In the world of Windows, higher resolutions would simply shrink everything down.

    While I think W8 is interesting, let’s face it, tiles are nothing more than square widgets. MS is a company that is simply out of idea’s & is hopelessly stuck in legacy engineering. They have lost all their top talent to Google, Apple, & Facebook, new college grad’s don’t even want to work there anymore. They are a company trending downwards & will never recover. I know some people from Intel/MS read these blogs & know exactly what I’m talking about.

    • zeo

      Uh, you do know Android started with resolution limitations?

      It took Honeycomb before they natively supported larger resolutions and still it’ll be ICS that addresses most of the remaining resolution issues. While in the meantime they still depend on the apps being made to allow for a range of resolutions otherwise they look terrible or won’t work on larger screen resolutions.

      Never mind both you and Chippy are basing your opinions on the developer’s preview release, which is little more than Windows 7 with a preliminary version of Metro thrown on top of it.

      They got about 300 changes they are going to make to it before they even put out the release candidate version.

      Already there are work arounds being developed…

      While many users are already making it known what they like and don’t like with Metro and that’s likely to effect the final release version. While features like DPI auto scaling were already planned for it.

      • Yes. Its important to note that this is a preview version. I hope similar articles and comment threads like here provide ms with enough feedback. I really hope!

      • FirnBirn

        I said UI not apps, I also said it’s not perfect.

        It doesnt matter if it’s only the preview, this is not something MS can change easily. Besides they won’t, just like they never changed the file system. Denying MS legacy roots is ridiculous, they use old tech with new icing.

        • zeo

          No, they can change it easily because this is only the beginning of Windows 8 development. Nothing is set in stone yet!

          While they are already giving up some legacy as they won’t be supporting legacy apps natively with Windows 8 on ARM and are making changes to the way Windows works they’ve never done before.

          You have to realize, we’ve not seen the real Windows 8 yet and we’re still a long way from them giving even a release candidate to review.

    • I don’t think PPI is an issue for the software at all. I’ve re-read my article. maybe I didn’t make it clear enough so it’s my fault, sorry.

      High PPI isn’t a problem for the software. I expect Metro UI to scale and WIndows desktop always has the manual adjustments. (Although some software doesn’t play nicely when font DPI is adjusted)

      High PPI is a problem in three ways.
      1 – Cost of production
      2 – Cost of graphics energy needed to drive the screen.
      3 – Unneccesary in many cases. 200 PPI is approx retina anglular limit at 45 cm and most people are happy with less.

      • timon

        Chippy, Thank you for the essential explanatory notes, in again.

        “200 PPI is approx retina anglular limit at 45 cm”, it is only suitable for some of the extremely good eyesight of youths, (ONLY during the 17-20 age). If you were myopia eye or non-youths age, your eyes resolution are less than 200 dpi/45 cm.

        We need to see better colour in the tablet and notebook, as well as usability in outdoors daytime, but is not fanatical to increase the PPI. Here does not talk about the cellphone screen, 3-inch or 4-inch merely.

  • rabs

    Hope we’ll get good explanations about the resolution limit, because it seems very silly right now. They better require min PPI and min screen size. Resolution is going through the roof recently, so it’s not meaningful.

    I have a good eye sight, and also noticed ~200 PPI is the max resolution for meaningful pixels. A desktop “pixel efficient font” on a handled is readable but tiring in the long run, way smaller than paperback print size.
    It’s usually used in terminals and command line stuff where I want to fit as much information as possible.

    So, at 200PPI usual paperback “small but comfortable” characters can be pretty anti-aliased ones. It’s usually better for longer sessions of reading.

    Over 200PPI can be nice for people to not see pixels on aliased stuff, but that’s all…

    I did those rough measurements a while ago, but I still wonder if there are some CPI (characters per inch) standards.

    • FirnBirn

      It could be a 1,000,000,000 ppi & should not matter as long as text is set to ppi scaling based on real world deminsions. Small pixels dont have to mean small everyting unless the OS doesnt know what its doing.

      BTW, I do gfx work for a living & have been dealing with these issues forever. expect a 4x jump in small screen resolutions within the next few years. Whats Metro UI going to do, just make everything smaller, on a touch screen? Oh wait no they wont, instead MS will prevent vendors from using hi rez screens just like they do now with WP7 while Android continues to explode.

      • rabs

        We agree, MS should issue some screen size limits (so their UI works), not resolution limits. And let things scale if needed.

        Most of my rant is some comparisons to show that PPI are becoming crazy high recently. I like better a handled with a useful screen (cheaper and less power hungry) than having my 12″ laptop resolution in a 4″ device, even if things scale.

  • Steve, it’s very early to say that Windows 8 is not designed to be used in Portrait Mode. This is not even an Apha Version and many things have not been implemented yet. Thing like Portrait Mode, Rotation, etc, will come later when Manufacurers and Microsoft work in these points. Without the proper driver support these things are impossible. Keep that in mind.

    • Yes, it’s early. Maybe this discussion is just the sort of thing Microsoft was hoping for. Are you still an MVP Frank? Perhaps you can put this issue on the table with MS?


      P.S Great to see you commenting. It’s been a long time! Hope you’re well.

  • ProLocEiten

    FB is 1 of the few people I have ever seen actually understand PPI based scaling. With all due respect Chippy, the examples you’re giving are based completely in the past on how Windows PC’s handle pixels. High PPI screens should never make reading difficult. In fact if things scale properly it should make things better as text will be much more sharp. If the physical world object size stays the same, more pixels rendering the object will ALWAYS make it look better.

    To be fair MS is not the only 1, Apple does this as well with iOS but in an even worse way. Although the difference is Apple also controls the hardware which helps ensure that there won’t be any non-compliant screen resolutions to break the experience. Of course now we see MS doing the samething with WP7 (controlling the hardware). Is MS going to do this as well with W8? They have already admitted that Metro apps will be forced through the store. It’s quite sad to see a company like MS have nothing left in them but to copy Apple’s closed system policies. It’s as if they forgot their entire advantage was letting users do whatever they want. Has emulating others policies ever been financially successful for MS (X-Box, Zune, WP7)? Nope.

    Android is not perfect & has had ALOT of growing pains. But Google knew they would never be able to control what hardware makers did with an open-source OS so they decided to make Android independent from any particular SoC or resolution (generally speaking). Without question, Google has by far done the best job of future-proofing their OS. This is why going forward all the latest tech (SoC’s, screen resolutions, etc) will be on Android devices 1st & take years (if ever) for Apple/MS to implement. It’s already happened with dual-core (soon quad-core) & is about to happen with resolutions in the Nexus Prime 1280×720.

    • Hi ProLoEiten.

      See my response up top to FirnBirn. The PPI problems I see have nothing to do with scaling. I’m totally happy that Metro and Windows desktop will work with high PPI. I used 200-250ppi devices for many years with Windows !

      DO we all agree that high PPI screens are still restrictive for the reasons I gave above though. Over time, 200 dpi on a handheld will be common (i’m looking at the Huawei Mediapad 200ppi device as a next purchase!) and 300+ will be top-end. Perhaps Microsoft have taken this into consideration with their product.

      Regards and thanks for the comments – exactly what I wanted to see here.

      Steve / Chippy.

  • FirnBirn

    “I used 200-250ppi devices for many years with Windows !”

    That’s with using a mouse-cursor which happens to have precise 1×1 pixel accuracy. High PPI matters alot when “touching” Windows with fat fingers IF Windows keeps the same legacy scaling techniques (high PPI = small UI elements).

    My guess? MS won’t do a damn thing about making resolution independence & instead just make hardware vendors limit their resolutions. Bad bad idea since I have recently played with a 2048×1536 10″ device. You will see it & it’s widescreen variants starting next year in mobile devices.

    300 – 350 PPI is about the maximum the human eye can differentiate from any distance. Yes of course that’s highly debatable but around that point it becomes somewhat pointless to make anything higher (digital picture PPI is the exception but that’s for an entirely different purpose).

    It’s a great topic Chippy & I’m glad to see it being discussed. Your other con’s like cost, energy consumption, are very true.

    • timon

      “300 – 350 PPI is about the maximum the human eye can differentiate from any distance”.

      1. must be a youth at 20 years old , not 10 years old or 40 years old,
      2. a youth of twenty has the best eyesight, not myopia eye,
      3. the target spacing is only with 30cm from the eyes. ( not 45cm or far).

      other replies are as follows,

      Chippy Replied
      October 15th, 2011 at 9:49 pm
      High PPI is a problem in three ways.
      1 – Cost of production
      2 – Cost of graphics energy needed to drive the screen.
      3 – Unneccesary in many cases. 200 PPI is approx retina anglular limit at 45 cm and most people are happy with less.

      timon Replied:
      October 16th, 2011 at 5:44 am
      “200 PPI is approx retina anglular limit at 45 cm”, it is only suitable for some of the extremely good eyesight of youths, (ONLY during the 17-20 age). If you were myopia eye or non-youths age, your eyes resolution are less than 200 dpi/45 cm.

      We need to see better colour in the tablet and notebook, as well as usability in outdoors daytime, but is not fanatical to increase the PPI. Here does not talk about the cellphone screen, 3-inch or 4-inch merely.

  • Lucien
    • Good stuff. Will take a closer look at this later. Thx.

    • timon

      OCOSMOS OCS9 is now preorder available in

      MAV panel screen, good! IPS panel screen is in MSI WindPad 110W and NEC Lavie Touch.
      MAV and IPS screen of both are better than the TN (film) panel.


      • timon

        NEC Lavie Touch (LT550/FS) is now below 80,000 JPY (1,048.63 USD) in Japanese street price, it is still an expensive price, despite that it has included all the accessories and MS Office 2010.

        But the is now pricing 1679.00 USD, unreasonably.

  • Les

    I wonder how long it’ll take for studies to show an increase of people with carpal tunnel and other joint problems because of these tablets. Looks pretty awkward to use.

  • Reader

    Nice impressions of Metro GUI! Thanks, Chippy!

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