Like running your tongue over a cavity
After grinding to a standstill earlier in the year, Microsoft’s Windows Store is finally starting to pick up steam, with recent additions such as Nokia Music,Twitter, and MLB.TV bringing big-name clout to the fledgling platform. Nevertheless, spending a week of self-imposed exile in Windows 8’s modern UI made it abundantly clear to me that some glaring omissions in Microsoft’s app catalog remain to be filled.
Still, even if some of your must-have apps appear in this list of the missing, all is not lost. You may be able to make do with Web apps, desktop apps (unless you're on Windows RT), or third-party replacements. But ultimately there’s nothing like the real thing, which means that these apps need to appear in the Windows Store, stat!
Microsoft Office and Office alternatives
The Windows Store has a paltry collection of productivity apps for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and mail. So far, only one member of the Office suite—OneNote—has shown up as a modern UI app. Other productivity suites are no-shows, too, including Google’s QuickOffice, DataViz’s Documents to Go, and LibreOffice.
We've heard whispers that productivity developers fear to tread in Office's natural stomping ground, and rumor has it that modern UI versions of the entire Office suite are indeed on the way. For now, however, if you want to get any serious work done in the modern UI, you’re better off giving Web apps a try than sampling the Windows Store.
Facebook and LinkedIn
So far, Twitter is the only major social network with a Windows 8 modern UI app. You can understand why Microsoft rival Google might be reluctant to contribute a Google+ app to the Win 8 cause, but even Windows Phone has its own Facebook app. (Admittedly, Microsoft built it and did so around the 2010 view of Facebook, but at least it’s there.) Windows 8's People app has improved since launch, but it remains a pale imitation of the real deal.
Facebook’s reluctance to embrace new Windows platforms seems strange in view of Microsoft’s early investment in the social network. And what’s LinkedIn's excuse? Unlike Facebook, that social network created its own Windows Phone app.
I want a Windows 8 YouTube app. You want a Windows 8 YouTube app. Everyone wants a Windows 8 YouTube app—just look at the legion of YouTube scrapers stinking up the Windows Store today. But don’t hold your breath—actually getting one could take a while.
Anyone who has spent time with a Windows Phone instinctively recoils when asked about the platform's atrocious YouTube app. Microsoft blames Google for not providing enough support to enable it to create a usable app for Windows Phone. YouTube remains a contentious issue in their escalating war between the two companies, and it will be up to Google to offer a YouTube app for Windows 8. The smart money says Google doesn't view whipping one up as a priority.
If you took a poll to figure out which mobile apps are used the most often, the top responses would be mail clients, Web browsers, and maps. But then IMDb would probably pop up. I'll bet you can't count the number of times that you've sat on the couch, watching an episode of Mad Men or Shameless, when someone else in the room asked, “Where have we seen that woman before?” A modern human being simply can’t survive movie night or prime-time Sundays without IMDb.
Instapaper and Pocket
Instapaper fans thought hell had frozen over when their favorite read-it-later app showed up on Android last July. But given that Instapaper took years to expand to a second platform beyond iOS, hopes for an official Instapaper app for Windows 8 are a longshot at best.
Pocket, a popular Instapaper rival, is pretty conservative about platform expansion, too. You can use Web versions of both services, but a native-app experience is far preferable to fiddling around in Internet Explorer.
For now, alas, the best bet for Windows 8 tablet users is to “read it now.”
Google and Microsoft may be rivals in this new era of tablets, smartphones, and connected services—but Google already offers Drive apps for Windows 7, Mac, Android, and iOS. So why not create one for the modern UI in Windows 8? Lots of Google users have Windows machines at home. And as Windows 8 expands, even more people will be thirsting for their usual Google services on Windows 8. Web apps may work for Chrome OS, but Windows 8 users need modern apps.
The same goes for Gmail, by the way. And yeah, I know that Windows 8 includes SkyDrive—but SkyDrive doesn't do you any good if you've already bought into Google's ecosystem.
Of all the apps on this list, Flipboard is easily the most natural fit for the Windows 8 modern UI: Flipboard's main menu is a series of tiles that constantly update with new information—just like the Windows 8 start screen.
The app renders articles in a highly visual style, similar to the way many news and sports apps in the Windows Store perform. Flipboard’s minimalist navigation controls even include a prominent Back button that shows a design kinship with Microsoft’s latest OS.
In short, this popular news reader/social media scraper is practically begging to be in the Windows Store. Make it happen!
The Windows Store has a fairly good selection of games, including titles from the Angry Birds franchise, Cut the Rope, Bejeweled, and Fruit Ninja. But even though the games section is a highlight of the Windows Store, the gaming selection there still pales in comparison to Android and iOS.
Big names missing from Windows 8 include Doodle Jump, anything from Zynga, and Minecraft. A Minecraft app is unlikely at this point, however. Game creator Markus Persson is philosophically opposed to the Windows Store and sees it as an attempt by Microsoft to "ruin the PC as an open platform"—a worry voiced by other indie developers, as well.
Lovers of streaming music can find some soulful tunes in touch-tastic modern UI form: iHeart Radio, Nokia’s Music+, Slacker, TuneIn Radio, and Xbox Music are available as Windows 8 apps. But that's not good enough.
Many well-known online music services continue to be absent from the Windows Store—Grooveshark, Last.fm, MOG, Pandora, Rdio, Rhapsody, and Spotify among them. That’s a pretty extensive list of popular music services, and it represents millions of listeners who can’t get a modern-style app for their service of choice. To make matters worse, trying to stream music via Web apps in the modern version of IE10 is a buggy disaster.
Apple's introduction of iCloud backup and sync for iOS devices may have lessened the need for a Windows flavor of iTunes, but reasons for Apple’s popular media app to land on Windows 8 are easy to find. With or without iCloud, many people still sync their iOS devices with a PC—and without a modern version of iTunes, Windows RT owners can’t access their purchased music and video content on their tablets. Why snub Surface users?
Plopping an app in the Windows Store could also pay more-tangible dividends for Apple, as iTunes is a lucrative music and video store for the Cupertino company.