Review

The Windows 8 App Store: A Closer Look

January 21, 2012 at 11:52 pm

Anatomy of the App Store

Microsoft’s upcoming version of Windows, Windows 8, is set to be a totally new experience for Windows users and developers. The new Metro UI looks great, and the App Store is one of the most anticipated features. Microsoft released the developer build of Windows 8 back in September of 2011, and has since held a developer contest, of which the second round will begin shortly. They’ve also had the chance to showcase the new OS, both at the Build conference, and again at CES, briefly. In a new blog post, Microsoft has gone a little more in-depth as to what users can expect to see in the new App Store, and we’re going to take a look at it here.

The Windows store is set to launch in early February, as part of the beta release of Windows 8. It will, of course, share the new Metro look of the overall UI. The latest blog entry details the Store’s landing page, editorial topic pages, data-generated lists, app listing pages, and the search, browse, install, and update experiences.

When we set out to design the Windows Store, we had a number of design goals and principles that guided us to our final experience. The fundamental building block of our Store design was to ensure that people could easily discover and quickly acquire apps. While this is a somewhat obvious goal for a catalog or marketplace, it’s actually pretty challenging when the size and diversity of the catalog grows as quickly as we expect to happen in the Windows Store.

Windows 8 App Store Landing Page

The Landing Page:

The landing page will feature the latest uploads and content, changing frequently to showcase all the newest apps for users. This way, users will get a broad idea of everything that the Store has to offer. The landing page hosts featured content, as well as navigational content for the user, such as featured apps and categories. Because their internal research indicates that most users will just search for what they want, due to a poor browsing experience, Microsoft aims to make the browsing experience of the store one that is compelling. Therefore, the landing page integrates featured content, data-driven lists, and category listings into an engaging browsing experience.

Navigation through the store is consistent, and done in the Metro style. This makes it easy to use and familiar to the user as they become acquainted with navigating the new Windows UI. Store categories are listed at the top of the screen, with some of the most popular apps displayed in those categories. To browse, you can simply swipe left or right on a touchscreen device, or with your mouse. For more apps in a single category, just click or tap the heading to delve deeper into it.

Pan left or right through the various categories

In each category you’ll find some spotlighted apps chosen by a board of editors. The editors choose apps based on a number of factors, including how well they perform on the platform, or how well they show off Metro design principles. A special “topic” page will feature particular “thematic elements” linking to multiple apps that the editors want to show off. Customers can also browse featured lists of the most popular apps, and what the editors consider the highest quality apps in each category. In addition, a section dedicated to “rising star” developers will features apps from creators that are “building momentum” within the Windows 8 environment. Those will appear alongside the apps of “developers with an established track record of quality apps”. Of course, the store will also offer suggestions based on past purchase history.

To “get a better feel for the categories,” users can use the pinch-to-zoom gesture, or mouse wheel, to see a broader view of the categories. From there you can tap or click to jump to a specific section. The same control mechanism works from the Start screen, as well. They call this “semantic zoom” because it “allows you to zoom in or out to see more or less detail about what’s on the page”. The zoomed out view of the store shows all of the app categories at once, ensure that a customer has efficient navigation, even as the catalog of apps and categories expands.

Searching and Browsing:

Searching the App Store

The popularity of search as one of the most-used methods of discovery is something that Microsoft has dedicated a lot of time to. The Windows Store has implemented the search contract, which allows you to search from within whatever app you happen to be using at the time, by tapping or clicking the Search “charm”. This makes it easy to search for new apps, even when you don’t have the store open.

If you happen to think of an app while browsing the web or using another app, you can just tap the Search charm, type in your search term, and select the Store to see search results for your query.

The same UI is used both in and out of the store for a consistent experience. The store also employs instant result technology, like that used by Google. So, as you begin typing, you’ll see a list of search terms that match your input. If one of your search terms matches an app, it will appear as “recommended” in the results. Tapping or clicking it takes you to the page for the app. There’s no need to go to a search results page first. If you don’t have a particular app in mind, the search results can be used to take you to a results page you can browse through.

Search Results Page

From the results page, you can browse your results based on relevance, by default. You can also change the listing to see results based on price, highest average user rating, or release date. You can also filter results by category or price.

A Category Page

The same design model is used in category view. By tapping a category header, you’ll be taken to the category page. Here you can browse the catalog, and make use of the same sorting and filtering tools used in the search results. The experience is a continuous list of apps, with no paging.

App Listing Pages:

App Listing Page

The app listing “is the place where customers can learn everything they need to know about the app (and where developers can tell the story of why their app shines and is something customers will want)”. The app listing page uses visual elements from the app package to apply the color scheme and logo used in the app itself. Here you can also find the app’s rating, as well as user feedback on quality. You’ll have a set of screenshots to flip through, which are given a very prominent position, since users are very interested the way the app looks. Also listed on the app page are the permissions needed, as well as the age group it’s intended for.

Installing Apps:

Installing Apps

Installing apps will be very easy. If you’re signed into the Windows Store, one tap can download and install a demo version of any app, while paid apps will require you to input a passcode to confirm your purchase. You can toggle the passcode off, but if you have children using the computer it’s a good precaution to keep active. Once you’ve chosen an app to install, you can continue browsing at your leisure.

We don’t believe you should have to stare at a progress bar and count every second as it goes by. Likewise, staying on the app listing page for the app you just acquired leaves you at a dead end with nothing to do.

As soon as installation begins, you’re taken back to the page you were on, to continue shopping. A progress indicator will keep you updated with your installations. The app’s tile will also be added to the Start screen upon completion. Tapping or clicking the progress indicator will give you further details on your installation progress. Once an app is installed, a notification will pop up to let you know. Tapping the notification will launch the app. The tile added to the Start screen will always be put at the end of your list, and can then be moved wherever you like it.

Updating Apps:

Update Screen

Microsoft has made the updating process as easy and predictable as possible. Once a day, the system checks your apps for any available updates. The tile for the App Store will then show you if you have updates available. Once you click the update page, you can update all your apps with a single button. The system installs updates very quickly, by downloading them in the background so they’re available as soon as you hit the update button. On the mobile version, this option is off by default, due to mobile data limits. You can toggle this option off on the desktop version in the Store settings. Once the update process begins, you’re free to browse the Store or move on to other tasks.

Reacquiring Apps:

Your Apps Page

Since many of us, obviously, have multiple computers, we might want to install our apps on several of them. Windows 8′s Store adds your device to a list of devices you own when you download an app to it. However, when you reach the limit of 6 devices, you’re prompted to remove one from the list if you want to install on more machines. You can also filter your apps to see only those installed on the device you’re running at that time. This makes it easy to transfer the apps from that device to another. In fact, if you have saved data or states on a particular app, you can set that app for “roaming”. This way, it’s connected to a Windows Live ID, and your data and states can be copied to another device.

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