Tag: WPF

The Microsoft BUILD conference, Windows 8, and the new UX Challenge

Sep 20, 2011 by in Experience Design, Multi-touch, Technology

Before the BUILD conference, the one thing we all knew was that Microsoft needed a multitouch tablet strategy to compete with Google and Apple and in order to maintain the future viability of the Windows operating system. What we were not sure of was how Microsoft would achieve this goal while preserving backwards compatibility for all of our previous Windows applications in the office as well as in the home. The challenge at first blush seemed insurmountable: provide something completely new to the Windows world while preserving everything that went before.

At BUILD, Microsoft revealed that they have actually accomplished this goal by providing what is basically two side-by-side operating systems. They have also signaled that the primary challenge for application creators going forward will not be technical but rather design-focused. Microsoft, which in the past has tended to side-line user experience, now puts design front and center with “Windows 8.”

One of the two Win8 interfaces is a slightly souped up version of Windows 7 that looks familiar and runs just about anything I could think to try installing on it: Zune, Dropbox, iTunes, Kindle for PC, and even the software for the Kinect SDK. “Windows 8” ran each of them without complaint. The desktop shell works best with a mouse and keyboard, though it also supports and has been redesigned to support multitouch also.

The other is a Metro inspired immersive experience that works best using touch. Instead of an explorer based file system with icons, the Metro shell is designed around interactive tiles, familiar from Windows Phone 7, that launch discrete apps. The Metro shell revolves around a new Windows Store (the equivalent of the iPad’s App Store and WP7’s Marketplace) that allows consumers to download games and apps.

Dual Mode with Dock

Dual Mode with Dock

One could easily think of this as two solutions in one: a consumer platform designed for the tablet and a desktop platform designed for the PC. What is unusual about these side-by-side solutions is that, with the flick of a finger, the tablet user can bring up the desktop UI and the desktop user can bring up the Metro UI. The two operating systems are not something one configures through the control panel the way one might configure a background theme. Instead, both UIs are effectively always alive and always immediately accessible.

Microsoft generously provided each attendee with a new Samsung tablet installed with a pre-Beta build of “Windows 8” and accessorized with a wireless keyboard, a stylus and a dock. The dock is by far the most intriguing – and least discussed – piece of hardware provided as it offers an indication of how Microsoft envisions “Windows 8” being used in the future. A tablet may be inserted into the docking station with a monitor and mouse in an office setting, at which point the desktop UI can be brought up and the user has an experience for the most part indistinguishable from what he is currently used to. The tablet can then be undocked and switched to the Metro style with all the previously running applications still running.

The notion of two different operating systems goes all the way down to the development stack with two different platforms: one based on the traditional tools of Microsoft development such as Silverlight, WPF and WinForms targeting the desktop UI and another, completely new, development stack built around something called the Windows Runtime (WinRT) and programmable using C# and VB with a XAML-style UI language or C++ or Html with javascript compiling to a combination of native and dynamic code.

Initially the expectation is that the .NET tools of the past ten years will be used to write business, productivity and data-entry intensive applications while the new tools will be used for games, social apps and everything else one might expect to find on a smartphone or an iPad.

In a mixed-OS experience like the one described above using a dock, a more likely setup would be a full .NET style business app for the desktop with a lighter-weight Metro style version of the same app on the Metro UI. This allows users to quickly switch back and forth between a tablet and a desktop scenario using the same device. The test of this will likely come when Microsoft reveals its plans for Microsoft Office. We would expect Microsoft to provide both a classic and a Metro version of their Office suite. How well they implement this will in turn provide a roadmap for how other vendors will cater to the enterprise in their software solutions. In other words, will “Windows 8” for the enterprise have enterprise applications for the desktop only or for both the desktop and for the Metro UI.

There is a third possibility also. It may be possible to build full enterprise applications targeting Metro only. The WinRT platform combined with Microsoft’s Azure offering supports this.

The challenge in creating sophisticated apps for Metro is not primarily a technical challenge. It is primarily a User Experience challenge. Can we create multitouch enabled data grids? Can we come up with new navigation patterns to replace the standard enterprise application with hundreds of unique windows? Can we find ways to create great experiences that combine both multitouch and keyboard interaction?

Jensen Harris

Jensen Harris

While Microsoft has been tagged with a reputation for not understanding UX over the past decade, this has seemed to change. At BUILD, the speakers were all aware of the importance of UX while speakers like Jensen Harris demonstrated that Microsoft not only knew that UX problems were important but that they also had the chops to solve them. In this context, BUILD has been a watershed event. If Microsoft has tended to admire and promote smart programming in the past, after BUILD it will become more important to be savvy about design. The days when design could be dismissed as merely prettying up an application are over. After this week, design on Windows is front and center. This is good news for agencies like Razorfish which are strong in both design and technology. It will be a challenge for software consultancies that have only been paying lip service to UX until now as they attempt to establish themselves as Metro experts.

On the technology front, as mentioned above, Microsoft is supporting three platforms: one targeted at C++ developers, one at XAML developers (Silverlight and WPF), and one targeted at web developers. The tack of using web technologies for building native Metro apps for the “Windows 8” tablet currently makes the most sense. A common path for developing apps for multiple platforms like the iPad and iPhone, Android and Windows is to first create a web application that can run on all these platforms, then after looking at web analytics data and determining which platforms use the web app most, building native apps for each of the top platforms. In the case of the Metro UI, it will be easiest to port code from web apps to the native web development tools on Windows 8 rather than attempt to build a brand new project in either C++ or XAML. Again, this type of development is already familiar to digital agencies but likely to be a challenge for other organizations.

BUILD also quietly announced improvements and fixes to WPF in the new .NET 4.5 framework being released with “Windows 8.” This is exciting for the Razorfish Emerging Experiences group as WPF is our main development platform for Surface applications and multitouch experiences.

Search Results for Silverlight at BUILD

Search Results for Silverlight at BUILD

The story for Silverlight is a bit more ambiguous. Currently “Windows 8” offers two different versions of IE 10 – one for the desktop UI and one for the Metro UI. The Metro UI version does not support plugins. Consequently neither Flash nor Silverlight applications will run in Metro IE. This is a difficult position since it entails Silverlight does not work as a multi-platform solution even on “Windows 8,” i.e. it supports only one of the two Win8 platforms. Silverlight-out-of browser is still viable on the desktop UI. It must compete, however, with both WPF – which is more feature rich – and WinForms – which has a significantly larger developer base. It has been suggested that the main benefit of Silverlight as a desktop technology solution will be that, since it, like XAML for WinRT, is only a subset of WPF, this will make things easier when it comes time to port an application over to the Metro UI. In porting from either Silverlight or WPF, however, some rewriting will have to occur as XAML for WinRT actually introduces interesting new XAML features – such as markup for localization – currently missing from both Silverlight and WPF.

There are still several open questions remaining with regard to Windows 8. Two have already been mentioned:

1. Is the Metro UI for the enterprise or for consumers only?
2. What are Microsoft’s plans for Microsoft Office?

Waiting in line for Win8 Tablets

Waiting in line for Win8 Tablets

A third open question is What are Microsoft’s plans for Windows Phone? While the Samsung tablets given to attendees at BUILD are Intel-based, Microsoft’s ultimate goal is to provide an ARM-based version of “Windows 8.” The great advantage of an ARM architecture is that it allows “Windows 8” to be placed on a variety of hardware platforms including smart phones. Currently, however, Microsoft has dropped no hint that it plans to release “Windows 8” phones, however, and the concern would be that such an announcement would damage sales of Windows Phone 7.5, which will be released sometime in 2011. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to make sense to have completely different operating systems for the Microsoft tablet and Microsoft’s phone. Apple has benefited greatly by having one OS for both form factors and Microsoft strategists, no doubt, are well aware of this.


The Razorfish Emerging Experiences team takes on ReMIX South

Aug 07, 2011 by in Kinect, Mobile, News, Technology

ReMix South

The Razorfish Emerging Experiences team showed up in force for the ReMIX South conference. Luke Hamilton presented “The Interface Revolution”, a discussion about emerging tablet technologies and what they mean for consumers. He also provided best practices for creating tablet experiences and key insights on how to bring these interfaces across multiple devices. Jarrett Webb presented “An Introduction to Kinect Development” providing insight on how to get started building experiences for the Kinect hardware. Steve Dawson and Alex Nichols were “Kinecting Technologies” which recreated scenes from famous Sci-Fi movies utilizing the Kinect combined with other advanced technologies.

While not presenting at the event, the team enjoyed presentations by Albert Shum, Arturo Toledo, Rick Barraza, Josh Blake and many other experts in the fields of Kinect, Tablet/Mobile development and UX/Design.

For those who are interested, we encourage you to download the code for the Kinecting Technologies presentation. In order to run the samples, you’ll need:

Additionally, the voice-control home automation sample requires the X10 ActiveHome Pro Hardware and the X10 ActiveHome Pro SDK.

Thanks go out to the organizers of ReMIX South for putting together a wonderful event. We’ll see you next year!

Watch the session videos here.


DaVinci Kinect Painting the Town at E3

Jun 03, 2011 by in Microsoft Kinect, News

Back in November 2010, we posted a video of a little Microsoft Kinect app we called “DaVinci Kinect.” It’s a prototype we originally built for Microsoft Surface that blurs the lines between the physical and virtual world.

But as soon as we got our hands on the Kinect hardware, we updated the app to take advantage of the new platform and interactions –  as well as extended the technology to recognize hand/figure gestures. With our latest iteration, hand gestures are used to create objects and control the physics of the environment.  The user’s hands appear in the interface which allows one to literally grab objects out of thin air and move them in the environment. Additional gestures allow folks to affect gravity, magnetism and attraction.

After the blog was posted, we received a ton of attention from the likes of Gizmodo and Engadget. And now, we have an opportunity to demo the app at E3!  We’ve been working on a version for the Microsoft Surface v2 as well, so we’ve integrated the new graphics, interactions and a fun little homage to Mr. Lucas.

We’ll post footage of the event next week. Hope to see you there!


Thoughts on MIX 11: Looking Beyond the Web

Apr 20, 2011 by in Experience Design, News, Technology

This year, Razorfish sent several of our people to MIX 11, the annual Microsoft sponsored conference in Las Vegas for developers and designers.

So much happened during our week at MIX  that it is difficult to summarize it all thematically.   There were announcements and sessions on several major topics: IE9, HTML5, ASP.NET MVC 3, Silverlight 5, Windows Phone Mango release, and the Kinect SDK. In addition, there were also appearances from MS Surface v2, Windows Azure, oData and Sharepoint as well as a remarkable set of UX presentations.

Mix11 Keynote Sketch

The word on everyone’s lips seemed to be fragmentation, whether in reference to the expected HTML5 compatibility issues between future browsers (which the emphasis on the IE9 “native” browser experience only exacerbated) or to the greater array of Microsoft development technologies fighting for developers’ attentions.

What the four Razorfish attendees at MIX saw, on the contrary, were patterns of evolution.  The much ballyhooed struggles between the Windows Team and the Development Team inside Microsoft for the future of HTML5 and Silverlight indicate to us that Microsoft can still respond to a rapidly changing worldwide technology ecosystem.  When a product is struggling in the niche it was doing fine in a year ago, it can be refitted to survive in a new niche. Such is the case with Silverlight, originally intended as a Flash-killer.  Silverlight developers never truly adopted the original Flash-killer strategy and instead used Silverlight to develop more sophisticated and interesting line-of-business applications.  The problem is that LOB applications do not really belong on the web.  They belong behind firewalls.  The lack of casual games written in Silverlight likely affected the ability of Silverlight to force downloads and gain browser share.  So instead, the strengths of Silverlight are being moved to the desktop as well as specialized platforms such as Windows Phone, the XBOX (?), and possibly Windows vNext.

WPF, which was once the pre-eminent desktop development platform, is in turn becoming a specialized tool for NUI development for multi-touch, Surface and Kinect.  The announcement of the Kinect SDK itself demonstrates Microsoft’s continuing ability to innovate and surprise.  It is, in the best sense of the term, a fortuitous mutation.

This all leaves HTML5 as the preferred technology for the web.  We of course see the early signs of browser compatibility issues. At the same time, though, we have each been through this before and survived. The extra gyrations developers will have to go through will, in the end, provide the illusion consumers desire – that the same application can run similarly on any operating system and any device.  As one MIX speaker put it, “The technology you use impresses no one.  The experience you create with it is everything.”

Windows Phone 7

Speaking of devices, we are excited to see that the WP7 team is not only going for parity with other smart phones but is firing warning shots across their bows with the much touted Mango release.  Features we’re used to like multitasking are being expanded beyond current implementations with updating live tiles and “Live Agents” which allow for more full-featured multitasking.

There was naturally some complaining about the placement of various keynotes and sessions.  With the multiple announcements and cross-blocking sessions, isn’t there a danger that individual messages will get drowned out in the general cacophony?  We find that the panoply of conflicting viewpoints is one of the chief charms of MIX. Microsoft is not Apple.  To borrow from Isaiah Berlin’s famous title, Apple is the hedgehog that does one thing well; Microsoft is the fox that explores all avenues and experiences.  The great strength of Microsoft is its ability to challenge developers and create new harmonies out of these encounters. Should MIX ever be split up into different web, Silverlight, Windows Phone and UX conferences, we would all be poorer for it since all we would ever get would be our own opinions reflected back on ourselves – an echo chamber effect that will only serve to make us all deaf.

The overall quality of all sessions and boot camps were extremely high this year.  In the past, we have been happy with a 60% success rate on talks.  This year roughly 85% of the talks rang our internal bells. Certain sessions deserve a special shout out, however.

While all the UX lightning talks were extraordinary,  August de los Reyes’s 21st Century Design (10’ 45”) talk took it to a different level.  In the live session, the slide deck itself was the star with the brilliant August narrating it much as Peter Jones was the voice of the book in the old Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy television series.

Despite its inauspicious title, Ivan Tashev’s talk Audio for Kinect revealed what a truly remarkable device the Kinect really is. We honestly didn’t understand half of the technical stuff and we became queasy when formulas started flying across the screen. What we learned, though, was that only a fragment of the Kinect’s full audio capability is currently being used.  Dr. Tashev demonstrated the ability of the Kinect’s audio algorithms to pick out two separate speakers, one reading Chinese and the other reading Korean, and separate them into different channels.  All of this cool functionality will, moreover, be handed over to developers when the Kinect SDK beta is released at the end of spring.

Finally, we cannot say enough good things about Luis Cabrera and his willingness to demonstrate the Surface 2 at work in A Whole NUI World. Razorfish, of course, has a special affinity for anything Surface. What was outstanding in this presentation was not only the beauty and power of the new Surface devices but also the amount of thought that has gone into the tooling. Kudos to the Surface team, they’re reaching for a goal that is more than just a new technology but a new way for people to interact with computers and each other.

By the end of MIX, we were all quite exhausted mentally and physically. It may take us a full year – until the next MIX – to finish ingesting everything that we learned and experienced at MIX11.

So long, Microsoft, and thanks for all the Kinects.


Delta + WIRED Store = Touch the Future of Travel

Mar 08, 2011 by in Experience Design, Multi-touch, Portfolio, Touchscreen

When it comes to travel, people care more about where they’re going than how they’re getting there. Delta Airlines understands this and asked Razorfish’s Emerging Experiences team to create an engaging experience for the WIRED Holiday Store in NYC. We wanted to tap into users’ imagination and sense of playfulness so that they walk away from the experience thinking about what kind of destinations they want to go to next and, of course, Delta.

In four (4) weeks we concepted, designed, developed and launched The Untravel Idea – a new, personal way for leisure travelers to encounter destinations. We wanted users to touch the future of travel.

The experience gives people an open-ended, creative experience that puts the user in control. First users choose the type mood they are looking for on their next getaway. From there users can select from a wide variety of relevant words that match their mood, and when put together, show them a range of destination possibilities. The result is a beautiful montage of photographic imagery that will transport the user’s imagination.

To extend the experience beyond the store, users are prompted to use their mobile device to snap a pic of a QR tag associated with each destination that allows them to explore additional destination info, video and travel packages.

The event was a complete success. People couldn’t wait to see where Delta would take them next. The Takeaway – Delta is not just an airline; they’re giving me new ways to discover travel destinations.

This is the future of travel … and it’s just the beginning.


DaVinci Goes Touchless With XBox Kinect

Dec 02, 2010 by in Microsoft Kinect

The launch of Xbox Kinect has caused much excitement in the open source community. In the last few weeks, developers have managed to tap into the hardware with impressive results. We’ve seen applications ranging from gesture-based experiences to 3D imaging.

We’ve taken this exciting opportunity to port our popular DaVinci experience to the Kinect platform. Gestures are used to create objects and control the physics of the environment. Your hands appear in the interface which allows you to literally grab objects out of thin air and move them in the environment. Additional gestures allow you to affect the gravity, magnetism and “planetary attraction”.

To date, many of the experiments in gestural interface development have not taken into account the hands. Unfortunately, the result is an experience that isn’t precise – users have no context of where they are interacting in the virtual space and 1-to-1 manipulation of objects in a scene proves difficult. By using an clenched hand to signify “grabbing” an object and an open hand to signify “releasing” an object, we are able to create experiences with an higher level of precision which can mimic a touch based experience. In fact, we’ve created a Kinect plugin to enable our entire suite of touch-based experiences to work with gestures – more videos to come!

Gesture-based interaction is great when touch isn’t practical. For instance, on a large screen projected display as shown in the video above it is difficult or physically impossible to control the entire area using touch. Using a technology like Kinect, we can create a virtual canvas in mid-air in front of the user. Interactions within this virtual canvas space are projected into the experience as shown in the DaVinci example.

To be honest, we had a blast playing with this experience. It definitely fulfilled all of our Star Wars fantasies of controlling objects with your mind. We’ll be adding more features in the coming weeks including the Darth Vader death grip. Stay tuned!

“Control, control, you must learn control.” – Yoda


Windows Phone 7 Launch – Behind the Scenes Video

May 25, 2010 by in Multi-touch, Portfolio, Technology, Touchscreen

Our team was asked to help launch the Microsoft Windows Phone 7 project at Mobile World Congress 2010. The project was a whirlwind experience – starting with 5 weeks of design/development and 11 days of deployment and support that spanned 2 continents and countless late nights. It was all worth it when Steve Ballmer made the introduction and we were all a part of history as the next generation in mobile experiences was announced to the 50k MWC attendees and a larger worldwide audience.  The people lucky enough to be in attendance couldn’t wait to get their hands on the experience we built.

We setup 10 touchscreens in 2 locations and the experiences were in constant use. Microsoft has since taken the touchscreens to countless other events including MIX10, SXSW 2010, CES, CTIA and many many more.

In addition to the touchscreen experiences, we also worked with our Seattle team to produce a microsite experience that would allow those not in attendance to get a taste of the phone.


RockstAR on Tour: Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco

May 09, 2010 by in Augmented Reality, Mobile, Multi-touch, Technology, Touchscreen

We took the show on the road for the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. We worked with the Microsoft Tag team to bring the RockstAR augmented reality experience to the event.

web20-1

Since we were running the experience in the Microsoft booth, we decided to add some new characters – the most popular of which being Steve Ballmer:

ballmer_shot2

We used the experience as a way to engage with conference attendees and demonstrate an innovative use of Microsoft Tag technology. As conference attendees had their RockstAR snapshot taken, we’d ask them to download the tag reader application to their mobile device. Afterwards, they could take a snapshot of the Microsoft Tag and retrieve their photo. We took over 300 photos at the event.

web20-2

The RockstAR experience is another example of how you can use tag technology to extend an interactive in-store experience to a customers’ mobile device. Wishlists, shopping carts, mobile content delivery, product ratings & reviews and wayfinding are some of the examples of how tag technology can be used to change the way people shop in retail.

Check out our pictures from the event.


The Technology Behind RockstAR

Apr 13, 2010 by in Augmented Reality, Lab, Multi-touch, Technology

We recently had the opportunity to debut the RockstAR experience at SXSW – check out video of the experience in action. We like to think of it as the classic photo booth taken to the next level with augmented reality, multi-touch and social integration. Let’s go behind-the-scenes and take a look at both the software and hardware that brings this experience to life.

RockstAR

First, let’s talk software. The application was built on the recently announced Razorfish Vision Framework. The framework provides a platform to power augmented reality, gestural and other vision-based experiences. For the RockstAR experience, we are analyzing each frame coming from an infrared camera to determine if faces are found in the crowd. Once a face is detected, it is assigned a unique ID and tracked. Once we receive a lock on the face, we can pass position and size information to the experience where we can augment animations and graphics on top of the color camera feed. This technology has a variety of uses. For instance, face tracking can be used to track impressions on static or interactive digital experiences in the retail environment. Here is a screenshot taken from the debug-mode of the experience which shows the face tracking engine at work using the infrared camera.

face tracking

In addition to the vision-based technology, the experience was fully multi-touch enabled – users can gesture on a virtual joystick to swap out bands and snap pictures.

joystick

Because the classic photo booth experience is a social activity, we took it to the next level with twitter and Flickr integration. As pictures were snapped, we’d immediately make them available online. A QR code was rendered with each picture to quickly allow users to navigate to the RockstAR photo on their mobile device. Once the experience is extended to mobile, users can email the pictures to their friends, set it as wallpaper, re-tweet it to their twitter followers, etc.

RockstAR twitter and flickr

Let’s move on to hardware. Unfortunately, you can’t purchase infrared AR-ready cameras at your local Walmart… at least not until Project Natal comes out later this year. Therefore, we needed to build a dual-camera system that would support the face tracking in infrared and the color video feed for display on the screen. We decided to go with 2 commercial-grade Firefly MV cameras with custom lenses.

camera

One of the cameras we modified to see only infrared light by replacing the IR-blocking filter with a IR band-pass filter. This allows only a narrow range of infrared light to reach the camera CCD.

infrared filter

We also purchased and tested a variety of infrared illuminators. These are used to illuminate the environment with invisible infrared light allowing the infrared camera to accurately track faces in low-light conditions.

infrared illuminator

Sparks were flying as we fused the color and infrared cameras together — just another day at the office.

We created a portable rig for the camera and infrared illuminators. Adjustable camera mounts and industrial strength velcro provide flexibility and portability across a variety of installations.

rig2

We used a presentation remote clicker as an alternative way to drive the experience. We primarily used it as a remote camera trigger which allowed us to quickly snap pictures of unsuspecting people from a distance.

clicker

The experience was powered by a 55″ multi-touch screen and a CPU provided by DFI Technologies. We’ve been working with DFI to build PCs that will power the next-generation of interactive experiences. These PCs are small form factor and can be mounted behind the multi-touch screen.

dfi

Last but not least, we bring you the pink rug. We can’t reveal too much information about this technology… we need to keep some things secret. Just know that it is critical to the overall experience.

rug


Audi A1 Multi-Touch Configurators at Geneva Motor Show 2010

Mar 08, 2010 by in Microsoft Surface, Multi-touch, News, Portfolio, Touchscreen

The Razorfish team in Germany partnered with Realtime Technology AG to build configuration experiences for the Audi A1 world premiere at the international motor show in Geneva. They are designed to attract and engage young people and to demonstrate the wide range of customization possibilities of the new Audi.

The first experience is located on the main stage, featuring a 24″ Multi-Touch display allowing users to interact with the car configuration and an additional 65″ display with synchronized high-definition 3d-rendering in real-time to garner even more attention. The complex configuration scenario is wrapped in a simple and easy-to-use interface. The application is based on Windows 7 and the Razorfish Touch Framework.

A1 to drive

A1 to drive

Audi A1

A1 all

The second configurator runs on Microsoft Surface and is based on the Audi A4 configurator. The multi-user environment allows individuals to place physical tokens on the table and configure their favorite A1 in a collaborative way. The extravagant competition kit adds exciting new possibilities to spice up the user’s virtual car.

A1 Surface

A1 Surface

A1 Surface

Both configurators can be seen live at Geneva Motor Show until March 14, 2010.