Microsoft launched its dramatically different new operating system, Windows 8, in late October. But while the technology world in general paid close attention and gave mostly good reviews of the new system with the iPad-like touchscreen interface, the financial industry took more of a wait-and-see approach to the news.
Windows 8 is a touch-enabled, "reimagined" version of Microsoft's old PC operating system. It introduces a plethora of new features that are easily visible on its homepage. The Start button has been replaced with a Start screen that showcases live tiles that stream information from third parties, such as weather or business metrics. Users can drill down into details from these widgets by using the touch screen. Though Microsoft owns the PC market, it's a latecomer to the tablet and smartphone party. Experts were mutedly optimistic about Microsoft's new slew of offerings. In a blog, Forrester analyst Frank Gillett gave the firm's forecast of Microsoft's market share:
"Windows 8 will simply stop the shrinking, maintaining Microsoft's share at about 30% through 2016. By 2016, we believe that Microsoft will have about 27% of tablet unit sales, but only about 14% of smartphone sales (and some of us are very skeptical they'll even get to 14%)," Gillett wrote. "The result is the CIOs and individuals face a market over the next five years where Microsoft still dominates PCs, Apple's iPad lead the tablet category, and Google's Android leads in smartphone sales."
A few forward-thinking banks and vendors had applications ready or in development for Windows 8 at its debut. Bank of America, the second-largest U.S. bank by assets, was one. "We're developing an app for Windows 8 that will provide another convenient way for our customers to interact with Bank of America," said a BofA spokesperson in a statement emailed to BTN. BofA's app is for PCs and tablets.
USAA is also working on adjusting its digital banking applications to run on Windows 8. "USAA is committed to being there for our members in the channel and platform they choose," wrote USAA in a statement to BTN. "We are working to adapt the affected functions for compatibility with Windows 8 and IE 10 [Internet Explorer 10] and will continue to make adjustments as needed."
ING Direct in Canada, meanwhile, had an app ready for customers to download in the Windows Store on Windows 8 launch day. The Windows Store is Microsoft's download center for Windows 8 apps.
Other banks are taking their time. "In the short term, I see a lot of testing going on and making sure that the user interface will behave correctly so users can perform banking functions," says David Albertazzi, senior analyst with Aite Group LLC.
ING IS ALL IN
ING Direct's new app for the RT tablet (the "lite" version of the Surface tablet that runs only new Windows 8 apps) and Windows 8 for desktop computers lets bank customers check their account transactions and find ATMs, among other actions. The bank also has an app for Microsoft Windows Phone 8.
"It comes down to a fairly nontechnical point: It's all about giving our customers choice," says Charaka Kithulegoda, chief information officer. Customers "use a multitude of different devices. ... From a bank standpoint, we want to give users a compelling native experience on whatever platform they are."
The journey to developing the app was relatively smooth, he says. The user interface was an "interesting" design to get used to. "It's a different paradigm to some of the other touch-based UIs that we are used to, like iOS and Android."
Part of the new look is Windows 8's start screen, which displays a mosaic of icons. The live tiles, as they are called, stream content from third parties to widgets on the home screen.
Though Kithulegoda says he couldn't point to how many current customers use Windows, he says the number of web users remains steady. Translation: Under the assumption that a large percentage of those web users are operating from a Windows-based platform and they upgrade to Windows 8, that's not a small amount.
"A lot of people use Windows as their operating system," Kithulegoda says. "If I just said: 'Consumers, use our website on your tablet device,' it may work in the short term but not the longer term." Why? Consumers are demanding a compelling experience from whatever device they wish to use to do their banking. Plus, consumers want to do their banking quick, without too many clicks required, and securely, which is what the bank keeps in mind when designing for mobile or tablet.
HOLDING OFF ON INTERNAL UPGRADES
For their own offices and employees, banks are in no hurry to upgrade to Windows 8.
There are three main reasons for this: Some banks have only recently finished upgrading to Windows 7; they are bogged down by legacy technology issues; and financial institutions are waiting to see how the market responds to the new software and hardware, including app development.
"[In the short term], there's not a whole lot of incentive, especially if they are just getting over the hump of training users on Windows 7," Albertazzi says.
Huntington Bancshares is one bank coming from that camp.