I love my Microsoft Surface Pro. Fast internals, a great screen, and a modern operating system have given me the best multimedia and productivity experiences I’ve ever had on a mobile device. It’s so good that it even replaced my third-generation Apple iPad for all of my tablet needs.
It’s not perfect, though. In fact, I often yearn for my iPad because of one simple problem: a lack of important multimedia apps. Windows 8’s Windows Store is only a quarter the volume of the iPad section in Apple’s App Store – 100,000 versus 400,000, respectively – and the majority of Microsoft’s offering is comprised of keyword-heavy knockoff apps, as you can see above. A lot of the services I pay for haven’t even announced plans to develop for Windows 8, despite its growing market share and popularity among prospective tablet buyers.
The gap between Windows 8 and competing operating systems has been closing in recent months, but Windows 8 is still missing key apps that would make the operating system a more viable alternative to Android and iOS. The following list of five is made of the services I miss the most while I use my Surface Pro, but chances are there are other services that haven’t given Redmond’s latest efforts a passing glance, either.
Music Streaming Services
The most glaring omission from the Windows Store is music streaming apps. None of the top four services – Google Play Music, MOG, Rdio nor Spotify – have created Windows 8 apps for their services, meaning that users have to visit their web players or download their traditional programs in the Windows 8 desktop environment to take advantage of their subscription. Thankfully, those services all have web players – so even if you have a Surface RT or Surface 2 and can’t install their desktop apps, there is still a way to use your subscription.
Windows 8 is very touch-focused, though, and having to use a touch-unoptimized website for streaming music services is a serious downfall for the operating system – and it’s likely a problem that most potential buyers won’t be willing to overlook. Music streaming has become immensely popular in the past two years, and an absence like this spells nothing but trouble for Microsoft’s efforts to increase Windows 8’s install base.
With over 200,000 subscribers, Crunchyroll is the most popular way to legally stream anime and other Asian media. It isn’t as popular a service as Netflix or other video services, but it is by far the best way to watch anime, with a large selection of classic and brand-new series, as well as full 1080P HD streams. Crunchyroll has rolled out to a number of platforms – including Windows Phone 8 – but has yet to make an appearance on Windows 8 devices.
iOS, Android, Windows Phone, PlayStation, Xbox, Roku, Samsung, Vizio, Sony, and a number of other platforms all have dedicated Crunchyroll apps. In fact, the only other major platform that doesn’t have a Crunchroll app is BlackBerry.
The Surface Pro and a number of other Windows 8 tablets would be excellent devices on which to enjoy Crunchyroll media, but the sad fact is that an app is nowhere to be found. Instead, Windows 8 users have to go to the service’s website – which, of course, is not touch optimized.
Amazon Instant Video
Another big video service that hasn’t been given a proper Windows 8 app is Amazon Instant Video.
As an added bonus to people who pay for Amazon Prime, Amazon Instant Video offers access to over 40,000 TV shows and movies – a perfect addition to the beautiful screen on your Windows 8 tablet, if there was an app. It’s also known for being an excellent way to cut cable, as the company will usually make new episodes of popular series available within 24 hours.
The Amazon app in the Windows Store right now is an awful fork of the website, so it’s disappointing yet unsurprising that the company hasn’t put forth the effort to create an Instant Video app. I do hope that changes soon, though, because using the web interface on such a small touchscreen is very, very difficult.
I wouldn’t even bring up the lack of a Modern-style VLC app if it weren’t for the fact that the developers promised one nearly a year ago. The Kickstarter campaign initiated by the VideoLAN organization last year raised £47,056, but it still hasn’t been released. The team has been steadily working on the app, and promises a release soon, but also mentions that they have run into numerous technical difficulties which have caused the delay.
The app will work across ARM- and Intel-based Windows tablets when it’s released. I’m particularly excited about the app, since it’ll help close the multimedia gap between Windows 8 and its competition. I just hope that the program’s vast compatibility with many codecs and file formats will extend to the Windows 8 app – and that ARM-based devices will be able to decode all of those files, too.
Out of all the services and programs that I’ve listed, YouTube is the least awful experience on a touchscreen. The website is full of big, finger-friendly links and video thumbnails that make navigating the website a relatively easy task.
There is a lot of room for improvement, though. The iOS and Android YouTube apps allow users to watch one video while searching for another and easily access their favorite videos and playlists, and the UI makes much more sense for finger navigation than the website does. A YouTube Live Tile would be useful for those who like to keep up on their subscriptions, too.
I love Windows 8 and its functionality on touchscreens, but the missing apps make it very hard to enjoy all of Microsoft’s work on the new operating system. When these five apps come to Windows 8, there likely won’t be a better platform to enjoy media on; but until then, Microsoft and its partners have a lot of hard work to do to make that happen.