Feature Articles

A Refreshed Windows Store in Windows 8.1

By Ng Chong Seng - 13 Aug 2013

A Refreshed Windows Store in Windows 8.1



A Refreshed Windows Store Experience in Windows 8.1

Less than a year after the Windows Store debut alongside Windows 8 and more than 100,000 apps later, we’ve a ‘new’ app store in Windows 8.1, which is expected to RTM very soon.

In a way, it’s still the same Windows Store, with tiles in a fullscreen, chromeless window. But with some tweaks in layout, Microsoft has now made it look like it’s bustling with activity. Instead of being category-driven, it’s now list and hit-driven, highlighting new and popular apps front and center. For example, on the far left (which is the first thing you’ll see) is the app highlight section, which can consist of staff picks, trending apps, or new content. They cycle through automatically, or you can use the top and bottom arrow keys that appear when the mouse cursor hovers over the section.

Instead of being category-driven, the revamped Windows Store is now user and popularity-driven.

Moving towards the right, you’ll see lists sorted according to what Windows Store thinks you’d be interested in (Picks for You), apps that are getting a lot of downloads at the moment (Popular Now), apps that are new (New Releases), followed by top paid and top free apps. Same as before, to see more apps in each list, just hit the title of that list. We’re seeing 20 personalized app recommendations in Picks for You (powered by Bing, of course), and 1,000 apps each in Popular Now, Top Paid, and Top Free. For New Releases, the number fluctuates. For those who don’t want the Store to recommend apps to you, you can actually remove the Picks for You section; the option is under the Settings Charm > Preferences (when you’re in the Store app).

Microsoft says the new look helps in app discovery and mechandizing, creating a win-win scenario for both users and developers.

Like a shelf that's not at eye level, items toward the far right may get overlooked. The idea here for developers is to have their apps move from this area of the Store as much as possible to the left, where the highlight and popular lists are.

Don't like Windows Store recommending apps to you? You can turn it off.

The per-app view is also tweaked, and now adopts a multi-column layout. On the far left you’ve the Install button (for free apps; paid apps will show Buy and Try) and nuggets of information like price, ratings, app description, and features. As you scroll towards the right, you get large screenshots of the app, ratings breakdown (including some helpful user reviews), more details about the app (like the permissions it requires, supported processors), and other related apps. This layout is a big departure from the previous one whereby everything is contained in one window, and you’ve to toggle between the Overview, Details, and Reviews tabs for more info.

And by the way, in Windows 8.1, when you install a Windows Store app, it no longer adds its tile to the Start screen. Instead, the tile is in the All Apps view (swipe upwards on the Start screen to get to this view); from there, you can decide if you want to pin it to the Start screen.

Unlike the old Store, there are no Overview, Details, and Reviews tabs to toggle between. Just keep scrolling to the right for more info.


Automatic App Updates & Gift Cards

Also, in Windows 8, when there are app updates, you’ll see a small number on the Store tile on your Start screen. This feature is still present in Windows 8.1 and the revamped Windows Store, but you can now also have the OS automatically update the apps. The setting to enable/disable this feature is found under the Settings Charm > App Updates.

App updates and new in-app offers can now be pushed to users automatically. But you can't select which apps get auto updated and which don't - it's all or none.

But what if you’re used to the old way of searching for apps based on categories? Well, just swipe down from the top of the screen (or do a right-click near the top of the screen) to bring down the new app bar. You’ll see all the 20 familiar categories, like Games, Social, Entertainment, Photo, and Music & Video. Clicking ‘Your Apps’ in this app bar brings you to a page that shows you all the apps associated with the in-use Microsoft account, including those that aren’t installed on the PC, so that you can quickly download and install them. Clicking ‘Your Account’ in this app bar is the same as clicking ‘Your Account’ in the Settings Charm: both bring you to a page to enter your payment and billing info, and show the names of the PCs that you’ve installed Windows Store apps on. Here’s also where you enter gift card or promo redemption codes (yes, real money, not Microsoft Points). According to Microsoft, Store value and gift cards will be available in 41 markets, including Singapore.

And oh, while one of the screenshots below says you can install apps from the Store on 5 PCs, when Windows 8.1 arrives, this limit will be lifted.

Prefer to find apps based on categories? The app bar (available when you swipe down from the top of the screen) is your answer.

There’s also a search box at the top right of the screen. As you type, results would show up underneath it.

 Hitting Enter will bring you to a results page where you can further sort the results according to categories, prices, relevance, newness, and ratings.

Gift cards enable more users to buy apps; this is especially useful for those who don't have easy access to credit cards.


Final Thoughts

All in all, there’s nothing to fault the revamped Windows Store. By making it alive with activity, it gets users excited, which can only be a good thing for app developers. Along with features like auto app update, removal of the 100-item limitation for in-app catalog items, increasing the app-roaming limit, introduction of gift cards, and enhancements to the Windows App Certification Kit, it’s an update that should please both end-users and developers alike.

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