TheWinDuck had the chance to sit together with Kurt Hofmann, Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft Switzerland, to talk about his job, Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile, the much discussed ‘app gap’ and more.
Once again a huge thank-you to both Kurt as well as Monika Staubli (Consumer PR) for allowing us to do this interview.
What exactly do you do at Microsoft Switzerland and what does your typical working day look like?
I’m responsible for marketing and thus our goal is basically to react to trends. In this function, I work closely together with the central department of Western Europe but I don’t deal a lot with the corporation in the US – I’m only very rarely involved in meetings with the corporation itself. Since I work together with many different customer groups (disposal, distribution, manufacturers, media agencies, press, bloggers, etc.) I have to be very flexible and spontaneous. I also don’t have fixed working times in which I have to be in the office: I can basically work from wherever I want and whenever I want. Consequently, I don’t have a typical working day.
Which devices do you use every day?
Since I get to use quite a lot of devices as part of my job, the devices I use every day change relatively often. At the moment though, the Surface Book is my primary work machine – and I really love using it. The Surface Book is part of my working equipment which Microsoft loans its employees. Regarding phones, I’m of course using a Lumia 950 – although I actually wanted a 950 XL. But sadly there weren’t any left. As I’m working together with hardware partners as well, I also get to use many new devices from HP, Acer and so on. For instance, I own the new Samsung TabPro S (You can find TheWinDuck’s review here) which I use every now and then. At the end of the day I don’t really have a main device: Since I’ve got all my data in OneDrive I can just work from wherever I want and on whatever device I want.
Recently, I noticed in an Instagram post that you’re using an Apple Watch. So you’re using non-Windows devices as well?
Indeed, I actually own quite a lot of devices that don’t run Windows. Apart from the Apple Watch I also use an iPhone 6, multiple iPads and a Galaxy S7. Before I got the TabPro S I used one of those 12” Android tablets from Samsung. I use those devices because I want to see how things work on competitive products. At the end of the day I’m still most productive on Windows of course.
Since you own so many devices I wonder which device you would choose if you had to give away all your other ones and if you had to face any limitations in your daily workflow due to having only one device.
If I had to restrict myself to using only one single device, I’d probably go with the Surface Pro 4. Although it lies somewhere in a drawer at the home at the moment since I’m using the Surface Book, I like the extra portability of the Pro 4. Furthermore, using the pen is more practical with the Pro 4 in my opinion. Nevertheless, I do like the Surface Book a lot. This limitation to one device would not really restrict my work flow since I do have everything in the cloud and the performance of the Pro 4 is enough for my needs.
You’ve mentioned that you’re one of the first person at Microsoft Switzerland who gets to use new devices. Have you already had the chance to use the HoloLens?
No, sadly not. But it’s definitely an impressive piece of hardware and I’m really looking forward to get my hands on it.
What are – for you personally – the benefits of using a Windows 10 Mobile device over using a smartphone running iOS or Android?
I can only speak for myself, but for me using a Windows phone is much more straightforward than others. I can just work much more efficiently with Windows 10 Mobile and I do have a better overview compared with other OSes. I also don’t need a lot of apps since I’m a ‘browser guy’ [laughs]. This doesn’t mean of course that I don’t want to see more apps coming to the ecosystem – actually not at all: There are definitely some apps which I miss on the Windows platform, e.g. the Coop (Swiss retailer) app. The same is true for my wife: I let her decide which phone she wants to use and after having used an iPhone 5 for some time she was happy to get a Lumia 950 XL with Windows 10 Mobile.
One of the W10M features Microsoft is promoting in particular is Continuum. Isn’t this one of the features which are an advantage of W10M for you?
For now I only use it for presentations to impress the audience. But other than that I don’t use Continuum very often. I think this might change when phones like the HP Elite X3 are available, with which you can also use desktop applications in a virtual environment.
But is Microsoft Switzerland itself already living this vision of phones basically replacing PCs? Is anyone using Continuum for work at work?
For the time being, Continuum does not offer full PC functionality yet, so I personally do not use it that often. But once it will be possible to use desktop applications as well and there are the needed work stations at our working place, so I think I could actually use it more often.
Monika Staubli: It really depends on the job and on the person. For some Microsoft employees the feature is perfect for their role.
You’ve been involved in the launch of Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 10. How do those of Windows 8 and Windows 10 differ?
With Windows 8 we did a one-eighty and expected our customers to adapt to the new modern environment with all its apps. They had to get used to this completely new interface. But this wasn’t really successful: Also at Microsoft, we did run into some problems with this new interface. Very often when we gave presentations about Windows 8 where we wanted to show the new modern interface to our customers we were not able to do so since there was a minimal resolution which is needed for those apps to run – and many beamers did not meet those requirements [laughs]. Now with Windows 10 we brought the two worlds – the desktop environment from Windows 7 and the modern environment from Windows 8 – together to please as many customers as possible.
Together with Windows 10 Microsoft also introduced the Insider Program giving Windows fans the option to provide feedback and to shape the future of the OS and its apps. But how much influence do those insiders really have on the development of Windows 10?
They’ve got quite a big influence on Windows 10 and its development. Not only do they support us with actually intended feedback via the Feedback Hub, but they also help us to shape Windows 10 thanks to telemetry data. For instance, the start menu got changed multiple times based on how long it took users to access a specific function/feature. Personally, I also like the social aspect of this project: It’s just great to see how many users are participating – also here in Switzerland we’ve got a very high number of Windows Insiders. In order to thank those Insiders, I’ve already organized multiple events and I definitely want to intensify this engagement with Windows fans in the future.
One problem that is still present with Windows 10 – although the situation definitely improved – is the much discussed app gap. Developers just need to develop more apps for Windows 10. What are the advantages for developers who publish their apps also to the Windows store?
I’m not part of the division which constantly works together with developers, but I definitely think that the huge installation base of Windows 10 is an advantage for app developers: Currently, over 300 million devices [Author’s note: At the time of the interview this was the latest official number shared by Microsoft, now of course we know that already 350 million devices are running Windows 10] are running Windows 10. And since Windows 10 much more people that are using PCs know that there’s actually a store full of apps. Furthermore, with Windows 10 we’ve introduced new methods of promoting store apps: For instance, the start tab in Edge displays user-relevant apps. I definitely think that all those aspects are great for our developer community. Additionally, apps can be easily ported to Android or iOS using Xamarin.
Speaking of apps: Have you got any favorite Windows 10 apps you’d like to share with us? I hope the TheWinDuck app is one of them…. 😉
I haven’t used it that long yet but it’s definitely a nice app [laughs]. As mentioned before, I am a browser guy. But there are some apps I really enjoy using: for instance, I absolutely love Drawboard PDF as I have to work with PDF files quite often. Plumbago, a Microsoft Garage project, is another app I really like to use. For me personally, the feeling when writing or drawing is just better with Plumbago than with OneNote. And my 2-year-old daughter loves to make drawings using Plumbago. Furthermore, I like to use the new local.ch app to search for EM public viewings. As I love to play some games every now and then I’ve also got Age of Empires installed. Other than that, I’ve also got some school apps like Geogebra on my Surface Book and of course a lot of Microsoft apps and services.
I’ve just noticed that the mobile versions of the Office apps are pinned to your start screen. Do you prefer them over the ‘normal’ applications?
It depends on what I have to do. For instance, if I just want to view a document or if I just have to make some quick changes then I actually prefer the Universal Apps. But of course I also use the full-fledged Office programs.
Thank you very much for your time. It was a pleasure to talk with you!