Introduction to Windows 8 Apps: What You Need to Know

Introduction to Windows 8 Apps: What You Need to Know

With the official launch of Windows 8 less than four weeks away, excitement about the new, app-oriented desktop and mobile operating system (OS) is running at fever pitch. But with key developer tools like the Windows Phone 8 Software Development Kit (SDK) still in only very limited release, anxiety is building as to whether Microsoft can launch on October 29 (with Windows 8 phones launching three days later), complete with a critical mass of apps ready to go. 

Lack of apps isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for most prospective buyers of PCs, laptops, ultrabooks and tablets, since full-featured Windows 8 Pro and Enterprise editions will run most older Windows software—now called “desktop apps.” But Windows 8’s built-in online store is the only official source for apps that use the new Windows 8-style user interface (formerly called “Metro”), design to run on new Windows 8 smartphones and on hotly anticipated tablets like Microsoft Surface™ computers shipping with Windows 8 RT.

In short, Windows 8 phones and devices running Windows 8 RT and not a traditional, full-fledged desktop version are totally reliant on the Windows Store for new programs. If the Windows Store isn’t stocked with apps when Windows 8 mobile devices hit the shelves, the new OS might be in trouble.

So, will early adopters be able to find the Windows 8 apps they crave?

Recent developments suggest they probably will. According to winappupdate.com, over 2,000 apps—a high percentage of them free, most available in the US, and the vast majority compatible with Windows RT—are now available on the prototype Windows Store, and the rate of new app submissions is accelerating in virtually every category.

Some proven popular mobile apps are already there, including Amazon’s Kindle, streaming music apps like Slacker Radio (but no Pandora yet), and all-important security software from Norton and Kaspersky Labs. While Twitter itself hasn’t yet posted an app, superior-quality alternatives, such as MetroTwit, have been available for months. Microsoft has created its own great-looking app for organizing and playing media, which may enable Windows 8 phones to supplant Microsoft’s now-retired Zune digital media brand.

Gamers will find dozens of offerings at launch, including hot titles like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope. Windows 8’s built-in integration with Xbox Live, meanwhile, will power delivery of a promised 29 Microsoft Studios titles, among others, by year’s end.

While Microsoft’s Office 2013 app won’t be available until next year, harmonized desktop and mobile versions will enable real-time synchronization across multiple devices, finally providing smartphone users with the real ability to read and manipulate standard Microsoft document types.

Currently absent from the Windows Store (but expected shortly) are versions of Skype, Google apps such as Chrome and apps for media consumption from popular stream services like Netflix. Facebook is said to be planning an app, though specifics have not yet been announced. 

What can you expect from the Windows Store experience?

For starters, easy search thanks to search subscription integration with the Windows Store app. Easy purchase too—following Apple’s example, Windows 8 is personalized and secure for each user via a Microsoft ID (read “Windows Live ID”) that gateways to an online wallet and payment infrastructure.

Inside the app infrastructure, that will allow for easy payment for software as well as in-app purchases. Outside, on Windows 8 Phones, Near Field Communication (NFC) technology will let you use your phone’s digital wallet to pay for things in the real world too.

How will the new Windows 8 apps look?

Windows 8 apps are managed via the new, highly graphic Start page interface, which lets you arrange, resize, group and individually prioritize apps for easy access on a side-scrolling display. These screen graphics should be impressively lush and crisp thanks to Microsoft’s incorporation of hardware-accelerated graphics at the OS level and in programming tools that make faster graphics easier for developers to incorporate in apps.

Apps themselves can show text and graphics within the boundaries of their tiles, making for a lively, informative Start screen, rich with optional notifications. Windows 8’s “charms” settings interface lets you centrally manage app-notification channels, synchronization across platforms, backup to cloud services, security and encryption, and other app settings.

Overall, the graphics-forward aesthetic and centralized management of applications should make for a dramatically improved (and simpler) overall user experience.  

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