While Windows 8 hardware was surely abundant at CES 2013, introductions of new Windows 8 apps turned out to be subtantially less common than rollouts of new iOS and Android apps. Windows 8 apps will grow much more plentiful long before CES 2014, some analysts say, but the jury is still out on the quality and nature of these future apps.
"The apps count is one thing. But there are very few apps in Microsoft's Windows 8 Store that are 'must have' apps you just can't live without," noted Michael Cherry, lead analyst, operating systems (OS), at Directions on Microsoft.
To be certain, CES saw the display of tons of traditional Windows programs -- such as Nuance's Dragon NaturallySpeaking (DNS) and McAfee AntiVirus (AV) Plus, for instance -- spruced up in their 2013 renditions for Windows 8 compatibility.
Noticeably scanty, though, were new lightweight apps designed for the Windows 8 "Modern" UI, a paucity that stood out in stark contrast to the barrage of new apps unveiled for iPhones, iPads, and Android smartphones and tablets.
In fact, the Pervasive Group, a family security software specialist, devoted a full-scale press conference to the launch of new mobile apps for Android phones and tablets. Announcements of new Android and iOS apps were also prevalent at press events like ShowStoppers and Pepcom's "Digital Experience!".
Why Are Android & iOS Apps Still So Far Ahead?
Analysts point to a number of factors behind the disparity, including the diversity of Windows 8/RT PC and tablet configurations, a shortage of touch displays at the end of last year, the release of Windows 8 only a few months before CES, and various app development issues.
There were some exceptions to the overall absence of Windows 8 app rollouts at CES. For example, Emmy Award-winning Toon Boom actually released a Windows 8/RT edition of its previously Android-only animation app ahead of a new Apple iPad version.
Nero laid out plans to release an iOS flavor of its also formerly Android-only NeroKwik instant photo sharing app by the end of this month, with a Windows 8/RT version to follow over the next month or so.
Windows 8 apps should be far more abundant, though, by CES 2014, with the tide starting to turn in the middle of this year, according to Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.
"Windows 8 was released so late last year that there wouldn't have been much time for developers to create apps before CES, anyway. Also, there was a dramatic shortage of touch screens during the fourth quarter," Enderle said, in an interview with NotebookReview.
"Developers will go where the customers are. By the middle of this year, there should be a viable market."
"It's kind of a chicken-and-egg problem," remarked Directions on Microsoft's Cherry, in another interview. "There aren't enough apps, but there hasn't been much incentive to developers to provide the apps. There isn't enough demand until the hardware is really out there."
Observed Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis: "Consumers are seeking out touchscreen configurations at retail, but the majority of Windows machines on the market do not have touchscreens, and using a Live Tiles UI app with a mouse and keyboard is awkward."
Windows 8 Capabilities Go Unused
Meanwhile, analysts are voicing concerns over the quality and nature as well as the quantity of Windows 8 apps.
It isn't all that difficult to migrate an existing mobile app to the Windows 8 platform, suggested some developers. In another interview, Patrick Kirchgaessner, product manager at Nero, mentioned "adjusting to the Windows 8 UI paradigm" as the only real issue. With Nero's app, Windows 8 users will scroll across the screen horizontally, whereas Android users scroll vertically, he illustrated.
Yet existing Windows 8 apps lean heavily toward entertainment as opposed to productivity, and few of them fully exploit the capabilities of Microsoft's "Modern" Windows 8 UI, Cherry said.
"We're probably six months away from apps that truly take advantage of the Windows 8 platform. Most apps today don't even expose the Windows 8 app bar -- or if they expose it, there's very little info on it," he elaborated.
"Windows 8 also has a capability called 'Contracts," for sharing data between apps. But very few apps are sharing data."
Greengart contended that Microsoft "has excellent development tools and provided application developers ample time to build apps ahead of Windows 8's launch."
Cherry, though, took Microsoft to task for doling out information to developers only in piecemeal fashion, and for not taking the lead in producing more compelling Windows 8 apps.
"Microsoft needs to show developers how to create Windows 8 apps. Microsoft's own Windows 8 apps -- such as Mail and OneNote -- are among the weakest of them all."
Most but not all Windows 8 apps will also work on RT tablets, Cherry pointed out. Microsoft gives developers a choice of targeting an app at either or both platforms.
'Windows RT Is In Even Worse Shape'
Greengart stressed the variety of Windows 8/RT PC and tablet configurations as another issue for developers.
"Many Windows 8 apps are designed to fill the screen with a lower density of information; this works well on an 11-inch tablet but is, frankly, ridiculous on a desktop with a 27-inch monitor. Developers may simply be waiting to see what [hardware] form factors end up being the most popular, and targeting their UI designs accordingly," the analyst told NotebookReview.
"Regardless of the reasons [for the dirth of new apps], the Windows franchise is suffering. Windows 8 requires users to learn a new interface, but there are few benefits to scaling the learning curve yet," according to Greengart.
"Windows RT is even worse shape; since existing Windows XP/7 apps won't work, there just isn't much you can do on [an RT tablet]. In my testing, I found Windows RT is also buggy and slow."
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