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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.
The hardware wasn’t ready
Over the past year, Microsoft’s hardware OEMs have released some genuinely innovative hardware designs. Lenovo and Dell have been the edgiest, releasing new touchscreen devices that flip and fold into some positions that seem downright unnatural, like the Lenovo Yoga shown here. HP and Samsung, among others, delivered new devices that shift almost effortlessly between tablet and notebook modes.
The trouble is, most of these devices weren’t ready in late October 2012, when Windows 8 was released to the public. It was weeks or months before some of the most interesting new designs were available to consumers. Even Microsoft’s own Surface Pro didn’t arrive until more than three months after the Windows 8 launch.
Meanwhile, PC OEMs kept selling traditional laptops and desktops that were ill-suited for the new touch-centric operating system. Is it any wonder that the first wave of Windows 8 machines inspired mostly confusion?