Microsoft has made no secret of its newfound love for a touch interface (I’m assuming we are ignoring Windows for Pen Computing and Windows XP Tablet as pretty much everyone else did). It is the standout feature for the majority of its latest product offerings.
Keeping in Touch
Last week's announcement of the new Surface tablet range is bang on theme. Whilst observers quibble about price points and the merits of a built in kickstand, there is no doubting that Microsoft thinks many of us will spend our future computing time prodding at a screen of some sort. (Granted no one, not least of all Apple, views this as particularly groundbreaking news.)
Windows 8 is designed from the ground up for mobile touch computing. The new Metro interface, whilst sitting on top of a pretty standard Windows build, has generally met with a favorable response from critics. It makes all the more sense when viewed in context with Surface hardware.
Office 15 is also just around the corner, and even though we only have rumor and the odd leaked screenshot to go on, it is clear touch is making inroads here as well. It seems we can expect a specific touch mode, as well as elements of Metro styling, to make the likes of Word and Excel more prod friendly.
SharePoint Falling Behind
So what about the next version of SharePoint? It is now part of the wider Office family, and Microsoft has already announced it will be updating Office, SharePoint and Office 365 all at the same time. So can we expect a friendly touch enabled version of SharePoint? A 'SharePoint: Metro' to impress all those execs running meetings with their shiny new Surface tablets?
The evidence suggest no.
Microsoft’s purchase of Yammer is interesting, and certainly shows how much Microsoft values social. But it is also a tacit admission that SharePoint hasn’t quite hit the mark in this area. The Yammer purchase should improve this situation, but it's doubtful it will have an impact on the upcoming new version due out this year. It will take time to integrate Yammer into SharePoint, so at best we are looking at a service pack upgrade in 2013.
Mobile is another area where SharePoint currently misses the mark, and can’t wait patiently behind whatever social improvements Microsoft is now working on. Is the Office style touch mode enough? The Enterprise environment might never go fully mobile, but a significant shift in this direction is very likely. SharePoint needs a bit more than bigger icons to keep up.
Windows Phone 7, and the upcoming 8, ship with a decent SharePoint mobile app. This is a good start, but no more. Microsoft could develop a suite of apps for the major platforms, including tablets. They look at some of the many existing SharePoint mobile apps on the market and make another acquisition. Alternatively they could offer a full native Metro version of SharePoint, built from the ground up for mobile and touch access.
Are we likely to see any of this in the next wave? The current evidence suggests it is unlikely. This is a real shame. What Microsoft can’t afford to do is address this issue next year, once it has dealt with its Yammer work. By then it will be too late, and SharePoint will have lost even more ground in this vital area.
Editor's Note: You may also be interested in reading this piece by Chris Wright: