Microsoft is abandoning the "Metro-style" moniker it has been applying to the tile-based user interface for its Windows Phone mobile platform and Windows 8 operating system.
While Microsoft has been promoting the new tile-based UI as "very contemporary looking and clean," news reports on Friday suggest that Germany-based retailer Metro AG may have objected to Microsoft's continued use of the term.
Microsoft reportedly told its staff and partners this week to stop using "Metro-style" to describe its cross-platform user interfaces.
When we contacted Microsoft for an explanation, the software giant sidestepped the possibility of trademark issues and claimed that the term was only intended to function as a temporary code name anyway.
"We have used Metro style as a code name during the product development cycle across many of our product lines," a Microsoft spokesperson said Friday. "As we get closer to launch and transition from industry dialog to a broad consumer dialog, we will use our commercial names."
There's no question that Microsoft's media efforts to promote the synergy between its coming platforms through the Metro-style moniker have suffered a temporary setback. On the other hand, some industry observers doubt that many consumers have tuned in to the message so far.
"I am not sure that Metro was necessarily catching on with consumers," said Gartner Vice President Carolina Milanesi. "But nevertheless this adds an extra complication to the already confusing Windows 8 marketing."
The Visual Tiles Are What Matters
Microsoft has been trying to promote three next-generation platforms simultaneously: a Windows 8 operating system for PCs, Windows Phone 8 for smartphones, and Windows RT specially designed to run on tablets and other computing devices equipped with ARM-based processors.
At first blush, it would seem that the one marketing thread that had connected all three platforms -- the so-called Metro-style UI -- has been snipped. But Milanesi isn't sure she agrees with this view.
"The fact that they are dropping the Metro name does not mean they are dropping the UI and what comes from it," Milanesi told us.
The elimination of Metro as a marketing term does not damage or weaken the link between Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8, Milanesi said.
"At the end of the day, we know consumers will make the link more through the visual tiles than [through] the name itself," she said.
Tiles UI Rebranding
Still, Microsoft will need to think fast to come up with an equally effective replacement name for its cross-platform tile UI. For this, Microsoft's marketing staff will need to adopt another term that likewise elegantly conveys the notion that the consumer experience is the same on its entire range of next-generation mobile and PC software platforms.
This is an important point for handset partners such as Nokia, which has been hoping to see its Windows Phone Lumia models gain market traction through the cross-platform similarities between the user interfaces common to both Windows Phone and Windows 8.
"We anticipate that Microsoft will launch a bold and aggressive marketing campaign for Windows 8, which we believe will have a halo effect for Lumia," Nokia CEO Stephen Elop told investors last month. "And as we look ahead, we expect the launch of Windows 8 for PCs and tablets, plus the launch of Windows Phone 8, to be a catalyst for Lumia."