As Windows 8 marches to its final public release on October 26, most of its moving parts are locked down. The last pieces of the puzzle are the built-in apps, which have steadily improved since they debuted in the Consumer Preview in late February. If those apps feel unpolished and incomplete, there’s good reason: they are.
But that's about to change.
In a new post on the Building Windows 8 blog, Microsoft’s Gabe Aul has unveiled the release schedule for the last round of updates to the built-in apps before the General Availability (GA) of Windows 8. Besides bug fixes and improved performance, all of the new apps are slated to pick up new features.
According to Aul, the Bing app will be first out of the gate, with the update available via the Windows Store tomorrow. The remaining updates will roll out on an unspecified schedule between now and the official launch date.
Probably the single biggest set of improvements is in the built-in communication apps: Mail, Calendar, People, and Messaging. The Mail app will finally provide full support for the IMAP protocol (in addition to Exchange, Hotmail/Outlook, and Gmail). The roundly criticized flat view of Mail folders will also be supplemented by a conversation view, as well as improved search capabilities and the ability to accept or decline invitations in email.
A curious omission in the Photos app is also scheduled to be fixed. Currently, you can only view photos stored in local folders in the Windows 8 app; with the next update, you’ll be able to view photos and videos in shared network locations and in HomeGroups. The Photos app will also gain the ability to crop and rotate photos and to navigate through folders even when opened from the desktop.
Presumably mindful of the iOS 6 Maps fiasco, the Windows team has lavished attention on the built-in Maps app, adding a laundry list of features that will be especially useful on the coming wave of tablet devices: bird’s-eye views, more than 3000 maps of indoor venues, driving direction hints, and better integration with the Bing and Travel apps.
A few of the built-in apps are powered by Xbox services and are due for significant refreshes. The Music app will see the return of the SmartDJ feature. The Videos app gets closed captioning (a feature designed especially for Paul Thurrott) and the ability to purchase videos in local currencies from within the app. And the Games hub should be a little more Xbox-like, with in-game purchasing, invites, and turn notifications.
The SkyDrive app, which is at the core of Windows 8’s sync capabilities, desperately needs improvements to bring it up to the capabilities of the web client. We’ll see how close the app can get.
The News app will get content from some high-profile partners, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Videos and slideshows are also on the new-feature list, along with an improved article reader and a better offline reading experience.
All of the Windows 8 apps are lightweight, which means updates typically take less than a minute each. If you’re using the final release of Windows 8, a notification on the Store icon will let you know that app updates are available. You’ll need to visit the store to approve the updates, which aren’t delivered automatically.