I am writing this post, at least the beginning of it, from my Toshiba Encore 2 Windows tablet cruising at 32,000 on my way to Orlando. The first fifteen minutes of this flight where a challenge for no other reason than the inability for Modern Internet Explorer being able to sort out the inflight WiFi service. The browser kept timing out and failing as I watched others around me quickly and easily get online with their various devices. That was my indicator that the inflight WiFi was working just fine. Frustrated, I dropped into Internet Explorer on the desktop. I was online in 3 minutes.
This experience is all to common when it comes to using Modern apps in Windows 8.1. They often do not play nice or are so out of date from a feature perspective that they border on being useless. Modern IE is not alone in this quandary and if Microsoft wants Windows 10 to be successful, the Modern app experience has to improve.
Why would I suggest such a thing when the desktop and Start menu dominate the Windows 10 PC experience? Because it is these modern apps that will be the universal apps across all your devices. And while I have suggested that universal apps alone will not make Windows 10 a success, they will certainly be a part of it. That means Microsoft themselves and the developer community must – absolutely must – improve not only the performance of Modern apps but the features to bring them inline with the desktop or other platform counterparts.
Modern Internet Explorer is hardly the only guilty party when it comes to poor user experience and performance in a Modern app. I will use two other popular services that the Modern app is just dreadful: Twitter and Facebook. These two apps share a common problem in their inability to update your respective timelines in a, shall we say, timely manner but also have their own unique issues.
The Modern Twitter app is one that is far from ideal. It has a default refresh rate of 15 minutes which, on Twitter, is just shy of an eternity. The Twitterverse moves at lightning speed, particularly if there is a world or sports event happening. To compound this refresh rate which you cannot adjust, you can swipe down to refresh your timeline. Only it doesn’t work well if at all. Meanwhile if you drop into the Twitter website you get instant, on-the-fly updating. While it is not quite real time on iOS or Android, it is certainly closer to it than Windows or Windows Phone.
The Facebook Modern app suffers from the same refresh challenges but also is just an overall poor experience. Videos for example do not play natively within the app, something that can be done from the Facebook website, iOS and Android apps. If you want to view anything other than the Top Stories feed (the default), navigating to another timeline view is done by a tap of a menu at the top of the screen. Only it doesn’t work reliably. I’ve had many instances where I have gone to Most Recent in my timeline and I still see the Top Stories.
Adding to these challenges is the lack of synchronization across devices in these apps. Take for example Twitter. If someone retweets me and I will be notified on both my Windows Phone as well as my Windows PC. If I read that retweet however on my Windows Phone, it will not update the Windows app to reflect that it has been read or vise versa. Effectively I get double (or in my case triple as I have a tablet, PC and Windows Phone) notifications and have to clear them twice.
I know that all of these issues can be addressed in a Modern Windows app. My proof is Nextgen Reader. I reviewed this great RSS and Feedly app a few weeks ago and run it on Lenovo Windows PC, my Toshiba Encore 2 tablet and my Lumia 1320. When I synchronize my feeds and mark them as read, they are marked as read across all of my devices regardless of which one I actually read them. It makes using the app easy and I avoid having to mark things read twice.
As we enter into a Windows 10 world with true Universal apps, the necessity for these apps to work consistently and seamlessly across all devices will be critical to their long term success and to the success, in part, of Windows 10. I can give a little bit of grace today as what we call a Universal app in the Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 world is not quite truly universal. It is close but not quite. That grace however goes away with Windows 10 where these apps will be using the identical code (with minor changes for UI and device-specific bits) and consistent behavior will be expected.
Adding to these expectations will be feature parity across these devices within the Windows ecosystem but also cross platform. The experience I have with Twitter, Facebook or any other app must be the same on Windows 10 as it is on iOS and Android. Developers big and small will have to make sure this happens or the whole idea of Universal apps will struggle to gain mindshare with consumers.
Windows 10 is a big bet release from Microsoft but it has as part of its foundation Windows 8.1 and Modern apps which will be the much discussed Universal app foundation. For that foundation to be solid, the Modern app experience must improve in the release. Consistent behaviors across all devices must happen as to will feature parity with other platforms. Anything short of this will prove to be challenging for Microsoft and the ultimate vision they have for Windows 10.