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Weak first-party apps
If any developers had an advantage in the race to build the new-style apps for Windows 8, it would be Microsoft. In fact, having a collection of excellent apps ready for the platform should be table stakes.
But the first-party apps that shipped with Windows 8, the ones written by Microsoft, were weak, especially in key categories that are supposed to define the tablet experience: music, photos, and e-mail. Some of those apps felt as if they had been thrown together hastily. The limit of 10 simultaneous tabs with the Metro-style Internet Explorer 10, for example—what was that all about?
The original Photos app has rudimentary rotate and crop features but otherwise does almost nothing in the way of editing capabilities. Given that digital photos are a crucial part of the tablet experience, that’s a horrible omission.
I don’t know anyone who thought that the original Windows 8 Mail app was anything more than mediocre. An update in March smoothed some of the Mail app’s rough edges, but it’s still embarrassingly feature-poor, a situation that won’t be remedied until sometime after Windows 8.1 is released.
Part of the explanation is that the platform and the apps were being built at the same time. Maybe so, but anyone who tried to use the first generation of those apps probably has little patience left.
Third-party apps slow to arrive
If Microsoft’s in-house app developers had problems building decent apps for the launch of Windows 8, what chance did third-party developers have?
A few big-name apps for Windows 8 are available in the Windows Store. Twitter finally pushed out an official app in mid-March, more than four months after the launch of Windows 8, but Facebook and Flipboard are still in the “promised, but not yet delivered” category after a full year. If you go to the Windows Store and search for Facebook, you’ll find more than 1600 entries, as I just did. But none of them are the official app.
There’s no Pandora, no Words with Friends, and no Google apps except search. In some cases that’s just capitalism at work: “We’ll build apps when there’s a market.” In Google’s case, there might be more to that decision.
One big part of the problem is that app developers don’t need to target the tablet side of Windows 8 when they can point to their desktop apps and say, “Use these instead.” And if anyone critiques that strategy they can point to the most glaring example of all: Microsoft Office.
Consumers don’t understand the benefit of touch
With a three-year head start, Apple successfully defined the role of touch in devices: Touch is for tablets only; it's emphatically not for PC-like devices, as far as Apple is concerned. As a result, you can use your finger as the exclusive method of interacting with an iPad, but on Macs those gestures work only with trackpads.
Microsoft took a very different approach.
In the design of Windows 8, touch isn't restricted just to interacting with tablets. It’s also a valuable auxiliary input method on touch-enabled notebook PCs (and, to a lesser extent, on all-in-one desktop PCs). “Gorilla arm” sounds like a real thing until you actually use touch on a Windows 8 notebook and discover how useful that extra input method is.
I find that it's often easier to simply reach up an inch or two from the keyboard and tap a button to make something happen instead of trying to maneuver a tiny mouse pointer with a trackpad. Browsing through a long article is often easier if one flicks up and down to scroll through the pages. A simple pinch zoom can make the fine print easier to read. You get the idea.
So why does all of Microsoft’s promotional material for touch-based features focus on gimmicky features like the finger-painting example shown here?
How hard would it be to create a few videos showing real people using a hybrid notebook, switching naturally from the keyboard to the trackpad to the screen? Apparently it’s more work than one can possibly imagine.