A desperate app selection calls for desperate measures
The Windows Store has grown significantly since the dark and dreary pre-launch days of Windows 8, more than quadrupling its catalog size since October 26th. Don't let that 20,000 app number fool you, though. Quantity is not the same as quality, and the platform still suffers from hit-or-miss availability when it comes to blockbuster apps. You’ll find modern UI offerings for some of the big-name apps from other platforms in the Windows Store—including Netflix, Hulu, Skype, and Kindle—but you’re bound to hit a brick wall when looking for many other must-have titles, including Pandora, Twitter, and Facebook.
Luckily, third-party developers have stepped in with their own versions of your favorite missing apps. We've sifted through the Windows Store to identify the best Band-aids for the most painful Windows Store no-shows.
Xbox Music is nice and all, but millions of people have millions of hours invested in finely-tuned Pandora playlists. Pandora doesn't have a Windows 8 app, but PRadio is about as good as a replacement gets. While the app’s interface doesn’t look anything like Pandora’s web app, it does provide immediate access to your radio stations (complete with thumbs-up and -down capabilities for further tune tweaking) and Pandora’s massive library of free streaming music.
PRadio behaves exactly as a modern streaming music app should, integrating with the search charm for easy music searching and playing music in the background when you switch to another app. Like all Windows 8 apps, it supports Snap. Snapped mode gives you playback controls at the side of your screen while using other apps.
The People app
Developers have built several third-party Windows 8 Twitter clients, but you can’t really use any of them. Twitter restricts third-party clients to a maximum of 100,000 users and the Twitter apps for Windows 8 have hit this limit—unsurprising, since the official Twitter client for Windows 8 isn’t out yet.
Unless you were lucky enough to grab Metrotwit or Tweetro early, your best bet is the included People app. It’s not the best Twitter client, but hey, at least it allows you to send and view tweets. Alternatively, the Tweetro app recently reappeared in the Windows Store after a brief hiatus, but now it carries a $9.99 price tag that seems steep when you consider an official Twitter app is slated to show up in the next few months.
MINE for Facebook
Unlike Twitter, Facebook has said it has no plans to build a Windows 8 app. The native People and Messaging apps offer some basic Facebook integration, but they're no substitute for a full-blown Facebook app. MINE for Facebook is the best alternative app available at the moment, offering a customizable view of your Facebook feed, notifications, and your friends’ profile pages. You can also update your status, leave comments, share links and pictures, and more.
It doesn’t replace the Facebook website entirely, though—you’ll still have to use the Facebook website to milk cows in FarmVille.
YouTube works just fine in Internet Explorer 10, but if dedicated apps are more your style, you should install PrimeTube. PrimeTube presents YouTube in an interface that feels right at home on Windows 8, allowing you to browse YouTube in that tile-tastic modern style.
PrimeTube isn’t just a YouTube player, though. The app allows you to log into your YouTube account and view your subscriptions, manage playlists, and leave comments. PrimeTube also continues playing YouTube videos in the background—something that can’t be done with Internet Explorer. It’s perfect for music and speech-heavy vids.
Movie Guide takes the place of IMDB, which is M.I.A. on Windows 8. The app lets you browse movies and watch trailers, dividing its selection between in-theater movies, older classics, and upcoming flicks.
While Movie Guide appears to be fairly light on content when you first launch it, it actually has a very comprehensive database of 69,000 titles and tons of actors and actresses. I like to use the database for movie discovery: Find your favorite movie with the Search charm to browse a list of similar movies, or tap the movie's director to view a list of other flicks they’ve directed. Once you’ve found a movie you want to watch, you can add it to your watchlist so you’ll remember it later.
Bing Maps is decent, but lacks drill-down features like the handy-dandy public transit directions found in Google Maps. Don't think that's a big deal? Witness the uproar over Apple's switch to an in-house Maps app on the iPhone.
The Windows Store offers two unofficial Google Maps apps, confusingly named G Maps and gMaps. Both apps support the standard Google Maps features, including directions for driving, public transit, walking, and cycling; location search; layers; and satellite maps. Each can also track your location via GPS if your tablet has a GPS chip.
Of the two, G Maps has much smoother transitions while zooming, though it does pester you with ads. Hey, the developer has to make his money before a real Google Maps app appears, right?
Tablets are great for reading, whether you’re relaxing on the couch or sitting in a coffee shop. Services like Pocket—formerly Read It Later—and Instapaper make this even easier, allowing you to save intriguing web articles you stumble across for later perusal. Neither service offers a Windows 8 app, but that doesn't mean you're bereft of delayed gratification tools.
Latermark integrates with your Pocket account, delivering your saved articles in a touch-friendly, reading-optimized layout that's optimized for tablets but still purdy on a desktop monitor. It sure beats squinting at small fonts on a website. One downside: Latermark doesn’t automatically synchronize articles for offline reading, although articles you open in-app are cached for Internet-free reading.
Windows 8’s Messaging app works with Facebook and Windows Live Messenger accounts, but what if you have friends who use other chat networks? You don’t have to kick your old friends to the curb when you upgrade to Windows 8—just use IM+.
IM+ is completely free and supports a wide variety of other chat networks, including popular services like Google Talk, AIM, Facebook, Jabber, ICQ, and Yahoo Messenger. In other words, IM+ fills the massive gaps left gaping by Windows 8’s native Messaging app. You can even have it send you a push notification when one of your buddies reaches out to ping you.
The News app included with Windows 8 is primarily focused on—you guessed it—news. To see the latest content from your favorite tech blogs (like PCWorld!) and other sites in a beautiful, Flipboard-style digital magazine, use News Bento.
News Bento lets you define categories of content you’re interested in to hone in on specific types of articles. The app includes a preset directory of many of the top news sites around, though you can also subscribe to non-included sites, add any RSS feed from the web, or link the app to your Google Reader account.
Windows 8 isn't just missing Facebook and Twitter; Instagram is a no-show on Microsoft's new platform, too. Fortunately, there's a non-official app for that. Milligram gives you access to the latest content on Instagram, displaying the latest popular and trending photos. Want a more personal touch? You can also link to an Instagram account to view the latest food photos from the hipsters you’re following.
You can like other people's photos, save them to your device, and even leave comments, but you can’t actually upload photos to the picture-friendly social service. That may be a blessing in disguise, though—have you ever seen someone taking a photo with a tablet? It's ridiculous.
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