Windows 8’s Biggest Weakness: Bing (if you live outside the US)
I was going to limit Tech posts to no more than one a week, but this one is ready to post and looked lost and forlorn just sitting there on my hard drive. Consider it a special bonus post. Just for you.
A whopping 95.5% of the worlds’ population do not live in the United States, but as far as Bing is concerned, they do not exist. That’s not a problem right now (because hey, everyone uses Google) but will become a Very Big Problem Indeed with the release of Windows 8, as Bing drives the poster-child apps that are a key part of the new OS.
Along with the Bing app itself, the News, Travel, Weather, Sport and Maps apps all draw their data from the Bing search engine, and if the data isn’t up to snuff… well, just ask the Apple Maps team how that panned out for them.
If you’re in the US, Bing is very good indeed. It gives Bing Rewards which encourage you to use the search engine by giving you Microsoft Points for doing so – which will be quite major, given that you can use them in the Windows 8 Game app to buy PC games. But not if you’re outside the US.
Then there’s Bing Local, which gives local travel info, movie times, business listings, localized search and more – so long as you’re in the US. If you’re not, there’s a good chance it won’t even have a clue about your strange non-US geography.
I won’t go on about how US-centric Bing is (though easily could) – the point is that if this is driving the apps in an operating system which is intended to be sold and used worldwide then it is doomed to fail from the start. I hope that between now and Oct 26 Microsoft do something very special with Bing, because if not, there’s going to be an awful lot of journalists and Apple users waiting on street corners, pointing and laughing.
As this is Windows, and one of the strengths of the platform is anything is replaceable, it’s an easy enough matter to uninstall the Bing app and all the other apps which rely on it and replace them with something that works, but the out of the box experience is what matters. If that’s not good from the start, Windows 8 will have an uphill struggle on its hands, and that’s a shame because it really is a darned good operating system.
Let’s look at the Bing apps, and see how the US-centric focus affects them.
We’ll begin with Bing itself. This is a terrific app that is going to have a lot of use, and looks set to increase Bing’s share of the search engine market exponentially. I’m finding that I use it more and more as my first choice search engine, and have to make a conscious decision to use Google instead. It’s not that Bing is better, but because it’s there, and fast.
Bing sits in the Start Screen and a single click brings up a search box with results immediately appearing below. Clicking a result brings up a browser window and darkens the result so you can see at a glance which ones you have visited. Image search is particularly good with image results being displayed full screen directly within the Bing app itself.
In the US, Bing has another trick up its sleeve too. At the bottom of the screen it displays what is Trending, right now. That makes it a great way to see what the hot topics of the day are. Click the “more” link and you get a mini-summary of the key news and search items. It’s like taking the pulse of the internet, and cuts straight through the News feeds to see the stories that people are talking about.
Here’s what you see if you’re outside the US.
Yep. No Trending. Because to Bing, we don’t fucking exist.
Of course, this is technology, and there’s always a way to fool technology. Press WIN+C then Search, type “location” and select Settings, then click “Change Location” and set your location to the USA, and Bing (and the other Bing apps) with think you’re a part of the 4.5% of the worlds population they care about too. It screws some of your other settings but is handy if you want to, say, take screenshots of what you’re missing and weep quietly. At least it’s easy to change back, and doesn’t require a reboot.
Next up is the Sport app. While the development team have promised other sports (presumably, they meant other US sports), the list currently looks like this: NFL, MBA, MBL, NHL, Golf, Formula 1, and a tiny subset of five Football leagues (Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga, Ligue 1). As far as non-US sports coverage goes, it’s pitiful. Again, it is an excellent app (the layout and design is superb) let down by poor quality of data. Sorry, Bing.
The one bright light in the Bing apps (when it comes to quality of data – they are all excellent examples of great design) is the News app, which tailors the news sources according to your location, and does a good job of it too. I wish there was a way to remove sources you’re not interested in though, but that’s a minor quibble.
The other apps suffer similar problems. Maps puts me miles away from my current location, and entirely fails to provide a way to correct it (I KNOW WHERE I AM. WHY CAN’T I TELL YOU? I yell at the screen, to no avail), and the Weather app seems to think it’s raining, or is about to rain. Oh wait, that one works just fine.
Will Bing learn to look outward before October 26th and discover there’s more to the world than the USA? I remain gloomily sceptical.
Update: With the latest update (today, October 9th) the Bing app gets Trending topics, here in the UK at least. Let me know in the comments if the Trending feature has reached your country.