It’s crunch time. In just over two weeks Microsoft is hosting a massive media event in New York to officially launch Windows 8. With the clock winding down, Microsoft is working diligently to improve some of its Windows 8 apps, but there are still some big question marks remaining for Windows 8 apps.
The most prominent and obvious change from Windows 7 is the Modern UI. The colorful, tiled interface is reminiscent of the Windows Phone interface, and Microsoft has designed it with touch-enabled devices like tablets in mind. It takes some getting used to, but once you master tapping and swiping to get what you need the Modern UI is actually pretty slick. Still, for traditional desktops and laptops that lack touchscreen capabilities, the Modern UI just seems like a cumbersome extra layer.
Whether you use Windows 8 on a touch-enabled device or not, the value of the Modern UI lies in the mobile-esque Windows 8 apps designed to work with it. There are some that stand out as examples that set the bar—like Microsoft’s own OneNote MX app—but there aren’t many app choices out there yet, and the Store needs work.
Microsoft isn’t resting just because Windows 8 is “officially” done. Microsoft has continued to monitor metrics, gather feedback, and make changes to both the Windows 8 operating system itself, and the default apps from Microsoft, and it has already issued updates before the operating system is even officially available.
Aside from performance enhancements and other tweaks to the core OS, the News, Photos, Weather, Finance, Mail, Calendar, People, Maps, Sports, Travel, Reader, and Bing apps have all been updated. I’m not suggesting the OS or the updated apps are now perfect—Microsoft will continue to improve them over time. But, the good news is that Microsoft is being vigilant in its search for areas to improve on, and expedient in cranking out the update rather than waiting nine months or more to roll it all out as a Service Pack.
The bad news for Microsoft is the anemic third-party support for Windows 8 apps. After searching for apps in the iOS or Mac OS X App Stores, or browsing through Google Play, shopping for apps in the Windows 8 Store leaves a bit to be desired. It reminds me of shopping at a store that is going out of business and has already clearance out most of it’s inventory, so all you have left are sparse items nobody really wants scattered about on mostly empty shelves.
It’s getting better everyday. The closer we get to the official launch, the more apps will continue springing up to populate the store. There’s an app for Box, Evernote, Kindle, and others, but there are still some key players missing from the mix.
Case in point—Facebook. Facebook and Microsoft are strong allies and partners, yet there is no Facebook app yet available for Windows 8. Perhaps it will be there by October 26, but Microsoft should have had Facebook on board before it rolled out the Consumer Preview.
The ugly is the Windows 8 Store itself. Right now it’s actually a good thing that there aren’t very many apps because navigating the store and browsing for apps is a challenging experience.
The Store displays the apps in categories like Photo, News & Weather, Lifestyle, etc., and each also offers up options to view the Top Free and New Releases within the category. If you click on a category, the apps are displayed along with the user rating and price—which is nice—but, it sorts based on “noteworthy” by default, which doesn’t seem to have any logic order to it. You can change how the apps are sorted with a drop-down, but alphabetical isn’t even an option.
What if you have an app in mind, but you aren’t sure what category to search? The Store doesn’t have an obvious or intuitive search option. There is nothing visible to suggest you can conduct a search at all. But, if you swipe from the right to open the Charms, you can use the Search charm to search for apps as well.
The bottom line is that Microsoft needs more quality Windows 8 apps when the operating system launches in a couple weeks, and the app store needs some work—especially if Microsoft builds a library of hundreds of thousands of apps.
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Tony is principal analyst with the Bradley Strategy Group, providing analysis and insight on tech trends. He is a prolific writer on a range of technology topics, has authored a number of books, and is a frequent speaker at industry events.