What Yahoo and Acer can teach Windows 8 app developers

What Yahoo and Acer can teach Windows 8 app developers

Summary: A new study that measures app usage on Windows 8 PCs finds that Metro style apps are gaining traction slowly. But a surprising result suggests that app developers who deliberately break Microsoft's design guidelines are most likely to win users over.

TOPICS: Apps, PCs, Windows 8

Microsoft has sold plenty of licenses for Windows 8. Six months after its launch, the company announced that 100 million licenses had been sold, with each one representing an upgrade copy or a PC that had rolled off the assembly line and was ready for sale. A rough extrapolation from current usage share figures collected by NetMarketShare and StatCounter suggests that 60-70 million of those PCs are in use today.

But how many people are actually trying out the signature feature of Windows 8, its new apps? And how many are continuing to use those apps on a daily basis?

Microsoft collects usage data through its opt-in Customer Experience Improvement Program. So far, however, it’s only disclosed the number of apps available in the Windows Store.

That leaves the data collection and analysis to third parties. A new report from Soluto. “Windows 8 Metro Apps Usage,” suggests that the new apps are gaining traction, albeit slowly. And the most engaging apps, the ones that people download, install, and use regularly, are coming from some surprising sources. The number-one app on the list? Yahoo Mail.


Soluto collects details from users of its PC management software, which is primarily aimed at IT pros who support small businesses and consumers. The data is collected from a management agent that runs on client computers. (If you manage PCs for family members, you should try the free version.)

For this report, the company analyzed roughly one month’s worth of data from 10,848 Windows 8 machines, including desktop PCs, laptops (with and without touchscreens), and tablets. The sample population included 200 separate models from (in alphabetical order) Acer, Apple, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, and Toshiba.

A few highlights from the report:

  • The survey recorded 9,634 unique Metro style Windows 8 apps that had been launched at least once.
  • Owners of touchscreen-enabled laptops are 47% more likely to use Windows 8 apps than those with a standard laptop/notebook.
  • Not surprisingly, tablet owners launch nearly twice as many Windows 8 apps as do their counterparts on desktop PCs. More surprising is the finding that nearly 40 percent of desktop users launch at least one Windows 8 app every day
  • Among the built-in Windows 8 apps, the Windows Communications Apps (a single package that includes Mail, People, Messaging, and Calendar) was launched at least once by more than 85 percent of all Windows 8 PC owners. The Photos, Reader, and Camera apps were launched at least once by 44 percent, 27 percent, and 13 percent  of Windows 8 users, respectively. The remaining Microsoft-written apps were largely ignored by the owners of Windows 8 PCs.
  • Among third-party apps, only Netflix made the top 10. Its app was downloaded and installed from the Windows Store and used at least once by roughly 8 percent of the sample population. Google Search was the second most popular non-Microsoft app, with slightly less than 4 percent of the sample trying it at least once.

The most interesting data in the report measures the level of engagement on the part of app users. For this statistic, Soluto starts by counting the number of Windows 8 users in its sample who have launched an app at least once, and then calculates the average number of times that app is used per week. That methodology tends to punish Microsoft’s built-in apps, which are preinstalled on every Windows 8 PC and in some cases are set as the default app for common file types: Photos for JPEGs and Reader for PDFs, for example. A PC owner is more likely to stick with an app that he or she deliberately downloaded and installed from the Windows Store.

With that caveat in mind, it’s still startling to see which Windows 8 apps are used most often.


Yahoo Mail? Yes, indeed. Hardcore techies might scoff, but Yahoo has hundreds of millions of loyal mail users worldwide, and its Windows 8 app, released in December, was built with those mainstream users in mind.

Yahoo’s app snubs Microsoft’s user experience guidelines for Metro style apps, with a large logo and a command bar along the top of the screen. When you’re reading a message, there are prominent buttons to reply to a message, delete it, or search your mailbox. Microsoft’s built-in apps, by contrast, force the user to find the hidden search charm, and most other options are hidden on a command bar that only appears when you swipe from the bottom of the screen or right-click.

You won’t find the second and third items on the list in the Windows Store unless you own a PC built by Acer or its Gateway subsidiary. These apps are preinstalled on Acer PCs, but weren’t on my machine. I downloaded and installed the Social Jogger app on an Acer touchscreen PC. Here’s a shot of the app in action.


One secret of this app’s success is that some of the Gateway PCs on which it’s installed include a dedicated key for accessing the app directly. But it’s also worth noting that the app contains prominent branding and four action buttons that are always visible in the upper right portion of the app. Again, making the app’s commands discoverable and not hiding them appears to have paid off for Acer.

Number four on the list is Lync MX, the Windows 8 version of Microsoft’s unified communication suite. Although there’s a more powerful desktop version of Lync, the Windows 8 release is easier to set up and much easier to use. And not coincidentally, it’s also incredibly touch-friendly, with an always-visible search button and easy commands for placing calls to other Lync users.

In fact, if there’s a single takeaway from this report, it should be a call to action to Windows 8 app developers: Don’t be afraid to break the Metro rules and put common commands right on the app screen. Your customers will thank you. More importantly, they’ll come back.

Topics: Apps, PCs, Windows 8

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Quite the indictment

    "app developers who deliberately break Microsoft's design guidelines are most likely to win users over"

    I will bite my tongue over what that says about MS and only add that we have seen ample evidence of that lately.
    • And perhaps a more relevant and accurate title would be: ...

      "What Yahoo and Acer can teach Microsoft"

      since MS seems to be the problem and encouraging app developers to break guidelines should be totally unnecessary.

      Maybe MS should have bought Yahoo after all and Marissa Mayer should be running MS? :-)
      • That would be an interesting alternative universe, indeed

        MS-Yahoo! Might have been quite formidable, if handled correctly. Imagine if Yahoo! Mail and Outlook.com came together; Yahoo! Messenger and Skype; Yahoo! and Bing Search. There is a lot of /potential/ synergy there.

        The key word is potential, though. It could have been another AOL-Time Warner situation, just as easily.
        x I'm tc
    • OK but...

      IMO this proves that people won't take even 15 seconds to learn how to operate an app. I've found that the more I learn about Windows 8, the more intuitive it becomes. Having to "find the hidden search charm" is only an issue once or twice. As soon as you realize it's there, and that it's where you go for all kinds of search, that's no longer an issue. I would argue that not putting search on the front page of an app frees up space for something more useful and/or relevant, while making search just as easy - because it's in the same place it always was, only a quick swipe away.
      • Everything becomes more "intuitive" the more you use it

        Blaming the user/customer is NOT a winning strategy.

        It is an arrogant tech mindset.
      • But why?

        Why should I take 15 seconds to learn how to use an app when I have been using it for years, and am happy with the way it is/was. Microsoft has changed a logical user interface for a more illogical one. It does not makes things easier or faster. Change for the sake of change is stupid.
        • Jorjitop

          The logical segment is dying....and the new generation is coming up....had I had an MAC or IPAD in my hand while growing up....I would certainly have used and favor apple product...Microsoft was in lead because the Generation X was in power...and now the Generation Y should be focused....
      • 15 seconds?

        "IMO this proves that people won't take even 15 seconds to learn how to operate an app."

        It's not the 15 seconds. It's the extra second or two that you have to take *every time* you need to find a "charm". (IMO, not so charming.) Having to do this every time can really add up to a lot of time wasted.
      • you on the right path

        Actually, now you know why IPAD is so common, it's very easy to use...everything is right there in front of you, for me it's boring but for many it's pleasing..........what it tell us, that people are lazy, and rather dumb.
  • Agreed

    I've been a Windows 8 user since release, but still find I'm lost in the apps that follow the Windows Store (Metro) guidelines. IE really ticks me off, because there is ample room on the screen for tabs (wanted because they are useful) and a mini-menu (like the Android three-bar deal).

    I think Microsoft should back off the design principles, and focus on the technology side. As long as Windows Store Apps run in their sandbox, declare proper sharing intents, and launch and close quickly, that should be enough.

    Sure, I enjoy the typographic and visual design of Windows Store App guidelines, but give me back my menus and some some buttons.
    Fan Of Everything
    • Over Reacted

      When you work with Visual Studio and do WPF's lots of colors, shading, curves, and gradients were introduced in Vista and pushed further by Windows 7. After a while and you see your work on others monitors and screens you realize that all those nice shades do not work on everyone’s computers. Often it just turns into lots of confusing lines. I think the Metro guidelines were a knee jerk reaction to this. It was so strong it knocked them down and they thought everything needed to be simpler on the screen. They pushed the simple concept so strong they started to hide everything. People got lost.

      User Interface design style is like clothing styles. It is a set of repeating pendulum swings. Sometimes it gets pumped to extremes but tends to stabilize in the middle. I think XP's styles were a nice middle ground.
      • "I think XP's styles were a nice middle ground."

        Yes, I'll second that!
    • When they start coming out with smaller tablets

      you're going to want that screen real estate just to see the website. I would be ok with a small tab bar, on the other hand what's so hard about swiping down from the top of the screen to see your tabs with a small thumbnail preview.
      Sam Wagner
      • So one size fits all?

        Whatever they manage to fit on an 7" screen is suitable for my 30" display?

        I could have saved ton of money by buying just a smaller display, you know... Or use proper desktop OS.
        • Desktop OS

          It's almost like you're ignoring the desktop on Windows 8 or something.

          Nah, that'd mean you have some sort of agenda...
          Michael Alan Goff
  • Agreed, hiding often used options is dumb

    It annoys me how I have to constantly right click just to mark an e-mail as unread or similar. That Yahoo Mail interface looks better.
    • "Hiding often used options"

      I'm not sure which mail client you're talking about, but yes. I especially dislike the new Outlook.com. I think I'm selecting a message to read, but I actually just clicked on a greyed option to delete, move, flag, mark read/unread or spam. And Microsoft has trained us for DECADES that if something is greyed out, it DOESN'T WORK.
  • Sums up the problem with TIFKAM

    Microsoft's current design philosophy is fundamentally flawed, and here is the evidence. Even outlook.com has taken the same approach of hiding controls, and "focusing on the data" to the point of making it not obvious where the text input areas are.

    Their penchant for hiding controls is extremely ironic considering their other current design trend of poor use of screen space. With all that empty screen real estate, there is plenty of room to make the controls visible!
  • Yahoo Mail

    I have used it and found it to be a better mail client.
    Unfortunately I am sticking with the default Windows 8 Mail App for now because it allows me to manage multiple accounts. I also have Office 2013 with Outlook but not using business email on this device and like the updates from connected standby.
  • I find myself agreeing with you more and more!

    I think Microsoft's view on minimal chrome is a good ideal to strive for, but sometimes reality demands concessions. Users should not have to discover how an app works. It should be fairly self-evident.

    I am no fan of the other end of the scale, skeuomorphism, but one thing you have to give it - it is usually fairly obvious how things work.

    The best way to meet in the middle is sleek and modern controls that don't clutter up or overdo it.