I had a funny thing happen to me this morning. Browsing around the web I ran into a review of Spotify, the ad-powered streaming music service, for Windows Phone 8. I was immediately pretty excited – Spotify has effectively replaced my iTunes collection (though I keep all my music backed up with free matching storage from Google Music, and you probably should too), but I’ve been really disappointed that they don’t have a “Metro”-themed for Windows 8. Some of you might remember that on the show a few months ago I expressed that I find the Windows 8 aesthetic really visually pleasing – I just think it’s nice to look at, especially if I’m not invested in an tasks that require jumping between programs frequently.
So, when I spotted that review I thought that I might finally get my hands on a “Metro” client for Windows 8, albeit more than one year after the consumer preview of Windows 8, and more than four months after the general release of Redmond’s new operating system. After all, that was the promise of the new “mobile first” approach of Windows, right? When apps are developed for Windows Phone 8 (like the new Spotify app), they are easy to translate to other types of machines within the ecosystem (like the modern desktop/laptop PC). Not so – or at least not yet, at least. My searches for a Windows 8 “Metro” Spotify client continue to come up blank.
It is the absence of applications like Spotify, four months after the release of the OS, that makes me worried about the promises that Microsoft has made about their new “ecosystem” approach to application development. Most especially when there has been a mobile version of the application for a long time – even on Windows Phone 7.5 – and we still have yet to hear a peep on a Windows 8 “Metro” version.
And to be completely honest, I’m one of the generous ones. I wanted to use the new “Start Screen” because I found it visually intriguing. I thought that the full screen apps looked elegant, and if I was only going to be doing some reading, listening to music, and other light computer use, that the Start Screen and “Metro” full screen apps would work really well for me. However, the gaps in the Windows 8 store software catalog are pitiful – Spotify being just one major app that is missing. There is still no official Facebook client, for example. How is this? Windows is one of the most prominent operating systems on the planet and developers seem to be actively avoiding developing full-screen apps for Windows 8.
Worse yet is the message that I’m getting from the recent release of the Spotify mobile app without a companion Windows 8 app: if developers have a desktop app (as Spotify does), then they don’t see any value in releasing a full-screen “Metro” app. It’s the fear that many of us had with Windows 8’s first release, and one that I was willing to accept when I jumped on board with Windows 8. There has always been the distinct possibility that developers would simply reject the prosepct of the Start Screen, Metro, and full-screen apps in favor of remaining on the desktop. Microsoft made a boon to their users in keeping the desktop around in Windows 8, and ultimately it looks like that choice will be what kills the Start Screen’s chances.
For example, I’ve been running Windows 8 since late October. As I said, I was pretty exciting about the Start Screen in some ways – I though it had a lot of potential. I found the integrated apps Microsoft had developed (news, email, etc.) to be well-designed and smooth. But as time has passed I’ve found myself on the Start Screen less and less, until at this point I use Windows 8 almost exactly like I used Windows 7. I more or less use the Start Screen as a place to go to start typing the name of an application – it’s a fancy, full-screen application launcher, and nothing else.
But if users like myself who were initially interested in the new design choice and user experience that Microsoft was offering are finding themselves disenchanted and back to the desktop – what incentive to developers have for building full-screen “Metro” apps? Which leads us to situations like the one that we’re in now. We’ve heard time and time again about how “easy” it is for developers to design one app for deployment across multiple platforms – mobile, desktop, etc. – but we haven’t seen any real proof of that. Sure, you can play Fruit Ninja on your phone and on your desktop. Great. But where are the real apps, where’s the meat? And where has this rumored “Windows 8 Ecosystem” ran off to?