Windows 8 Apps and the Windows Store
The Windows 8 Apps
When we discussed the new Windows 8 interface in Chapter 4, “Using the Windows 8 Interface,” we mentioned that one of Microsoft’s fundamental design principles for the interface is “content before chrome.” That is, the Windows 8 interface is characterized by an overall style that places content front and center, and where chrome—including menus, scrollbars, and icons—is either hidden most of the time or eliminated altogether.
That principle applies to Windows 8 apps as well, which for the most part adhere to the following guidelines:
- Clean layout—Windows 8 app interfaces are characterized by a generous amount of open space, so you won’t find lots of graphical knickknacks such as lines, boxes, and borders. These interfaces are also visually simple, so you won’t find color tricks such as gradients and blurs. The result is that the content gets some room to breathe.
- Uncluttered interface—Windows 8 apps have lots of white (or black or green or whatever) space surrounding the content. Most Windows 8 apps achieve this look by not leaving commands, navigational aids, and other features displayed full-time. Instead, apps “leverage the edge” by placing commands and features in the app bar (which can be accessed by swiping from the top or bottom edge) or the Charms menu (which can be accessed by swiping from the right edge).
- Typography conveys hierarchy—Traditional programs use boxes and lines to separate sections and establish interface hierarchies. Windows 8 apps use typographical indicators—particularly text size, weight, and color—to convey boundaries and hierarchies. For example, Figure 5.1 shows a typical file picker screen, which makes good use of typography to provide a great deal of information.
Figure 5.1. Windows 8 apps use consistent typographical conventions to convey boundaries and hierarchies.
- Direct content interaction—In most Windows 8 apps, you manipulate the content itself by performing taps, drags, zooms, and swipes directly on an item. Wherever possible, a Windows 8 app doesn’t offer separate controls for manipulating content.
Another unique characteristic of Windows 8 apps is that they can work with contracts, which are common background services and features that an app can use and that offer a consistent interface to the user. More than a dozen contracts are available to Windows 8 apps, but the following are the four you’ll use most often:
- Search—Available from the Charms menu, this contract implements in-app searches. For example, tapping the Search charm from within Internet Explorer runs a Bing search on whatever text you enter. You can also use the Search charm to find a location from within the Maps app.
- Settings—Available from the Charms menu, this contract displays the app’s Settings pane, which can include links to program options and information.
- Printing—Available via Devices in the Charms menu, this contract displays a list of devices—both local (that is, connected directly to your PC) and remote (that is, on your network)—that you can use to print content in the current app.
- Share—Available from the Charms menu, this contract enables you to send app data to another person, either via the Mail app, or to a social network via the People app. See “Sharing Windows 8 App Data,” later in this chapter.
Calendar is Windows 8’s scheduling app, enabling you to create events for meetings, appointments, get-togethers, and all-day tasks such as conferences and vacations. By default, Calendar displays events from three calendars (see Figure 5.2):
- Your personal calendar associated with your Microsoft account. These events appear with a blue background.
- A Birthdays calendar that displays birthdays from contacts associated with your Microsoft account as well as contacts from any other online accounts connected to your Microsoft account (such as Facebook). Birthdays appear with a light purple background.
- A Holidays calendar that shows prominent holidays from your location (for example, a U.S. Holidays calendar if you’re located in the United States). Holidays appear with a dark purple background.
Figure 5.2. By default, the Calendar app shows you personal events, birthdays, and holidays.
You can also add other accounts to Calendar. Press Windows Logo+I (or display the Charms menu and click Settings) and then click Accounts to open the Accounts pane. Click Add an Account, click Exchange or Google, and then fill in the details.
To change the calendar view, right-click the screen and then click one of the three views: Day, Week, or Month. Whichever view you choose, note that you navigate by clicking the Next and Previous arrows, pointed out in Figure 5.2. (If you don’t see these arrows, move your mouse over the Calendar screen.) If you’re using a touchscreen, you can also navigate the Calendar view by swiping right and left.
To add an event, either click the day of the event in Month view or click the time the event occurs (on the day it occurs) in Week or Day view.
This app takes you directly to a Bing search screen, where you can perform web searches without having to load the Internet Explorer app. The Bing app displays search results as tiles that show the web page name and address and a brief description of the page.
If your PC or tablet has a built-in or connected camera, you can use the Camera app to take a photo or record a video:
- Photo—To take a photo, click the Camera app on the Start screen, and then click on the screen where you see the picture to take the photo.
- Video—Click the Camera app on the Start screen; then, to record a video, first click the Video Mode icon to activate it (that is, give the icon a white background). Click the screen to start the recording, and then click the screen again to stop.
In both cases, you can click to activate the Timer icon, which gives you a 3-second countdown before Camera takes the photo or begins recording the video.
Photos and videos you shoot with the Camera app are stored in your user account’s Pictures library, in the Camera Roll folder.
Finally, you can also click Camera Options to configure various settings, which vary depending on your camera. For example, you can choose a photo resolution and audio input device for video recording, and you can turn on video stabilization (if your camera supports it).
Desktop is perhaps the simplest of the apps in that it does just one thing: displays the Windows 8 desktop. (You can also get there by pressing Windows Logo+D.) The Desktop app has no app bar, and if you open the Charms menu and click Settings, the pane that appears gives you links for Control Panel, Personalization, and PC Info (which displays the System window).
The Finance app is Windows 8’s one-stop shop for business, economic, and investing news and statistics, gathered by Bing Finance. The main Finance app screen is divided horizontally into eight sections:
- Today—The top story of the day as well as recent values of market indices such as the Dow and the NASDAQ.
- Indices—Current values and daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly charts for four market indices: Dow, S&P 500, NASDAQ, and Russell 2000 (see Figure 5.3).
Figure 5.3. The Indices section of the main Finance app screen.
- News—The latest news stories from the world of finance.
- Watchlist—A list of stocks that you’re watching. Note that you only see this section if you’ve added at least one stock. To add a stock to your list, right-click the screen, click Watchlist in the app bar, click Add (+), type the company name or stock symbol, and then click the stock you want in the list that appears.
- Market Movers—The stocks with the highest percentage gains and losses on the day, as well as the most actively traded stocks. NASDAQ stocks are displayed by default, but you can see other exchanges by clicking Market Movers and then clicking NYSE or AMEX.
- Across the Market—Recent values for various currencies, bonds, commodities, and exchange-traded funds.
- Rates—Recent rates for mortgages, savings accounts, and credit card accounts.
- Fund Picks—Lists of top-performing mutual funds in various categories.
You can also see extra news and data from various categories by right-clicking the screen and using the app bar to click a category: Today, Watchlist, News, Rates, Currencies, World Market, or Best of Web.
The Internet Explorer app is a vastly scaled-down version of desktop Internet Explorer. Besides standard web browsing (that is, typing a new address, clicking links, and using the Back and Forward buttons to navigate your session history), you can only do the following with the Internet Explorer app:
- Select a frequent site—When you click inside the Address box, Internet Explorer displays a list of the websites you’ve visited most often, as shown in Figure 5.4. Click one of those tiles to surf to that site.
Figure 5.4. The Internet Explorer app maintains a list of sites you’ve visited often.
- Pin a site—Rather than storing favorites, as in desktop Internet Explorer, the Internet Explorer app enables you pin a site, which you do by clicking the Pin Site icon to the right of the Address box and then clicking Pin to Start. This not only adds the site to the Pinned section of the browser (this section appears to the right of the Frequent section when you click within the Address box), but it also adds a tile for the site to the Start screen.
- Add a tab—To load a page into a new tab, right-click the screen and then click New Tab (+), or press Ctrl+T. To load a link into a new background tab, hold down Ctrl as you click the link; to load a link into a new foreground tab, hold down Shift and Ctrl as you click the link. To shut down a tab, right-click the screen and then click the Close (X) button in the top-right corner of the tab.
- Browse privately—To start a surfing session where Internet Explorer doesn’t store your browsing history (addresses visited, page data, cookies, and so on), right-click the screen, click Tab Tools (the ellipsis icon), and then click New InPrivate Tab.
That, we’re sorry to say, is about it. There are a few (a very few) options you can configure by pressing Windows Logo+I and then clicking Internet Options. What about security, you ask? The Internet Explorer app runs in enhanced protected mode by default, so it’s super-secure right out of the box, although that also means it doesn’t support add-ons and other interface extensions.
- To learn about enhanced protected mode, see “Understanding Internet Explorer’s Advanced Options,” p. 753.
The Mail app is an extremely simple mail client that offers only the most basic functionality: sending messages, responding to messages (Reply, Reply to All, or Forward), moving messages to different folders (although you need to create new folders online), and deleting messages.
To create a new message, click New (+) and then use the screen that appears to fill in the message details. Click Attachments to add a file attachment; click More Details to add a Bcc field and a Priority list; and when the cursor is inside the message field, you can right-click to see the available formatting options, as shown in Figure 5.5. Click More to insert a bulleted or numbered list, as well as to undo or redo an operation.
Figure 5.5. Right-click when using the message field to see these formatting options.
You can also add other accounts to Mail. Press Windows Logo+I (or display the Charms menu and click Settings) and then click Accounts to open the Accounts pane. Click Add an Account, click Hotmail, Exchange, or Google, and then fill in the account details.
The Maps app is a simple mapping program. Besides enabling you to peruse the map, the Maps app also offers the following features, most of which require the app bar, as shown in Figure 5.6:
- Search for a location—Display the Charms menu, click Search, and then type the address or name of the location you want.
- Display your current location—In the app bar, click My Location to have the map zero in on your present location. (If this doesn’t work, see the steps that follow this list.)
- Get directions to a location—In the app bar, click Directions and then specify a starting point (the default is your current location) and a destination.
- Change the map view—In the app bar, click Map Style and then click Road View or Aerial View (that is, satellite view).
- Show current traffic conditions—In the app bar, click Show Traffic to overlay traffic data on the map. Routes shown in green have good traffic, whereas routes shown in shades of orange have heavy traffic (the deeper the orange, the heavier the traffic).
Figure 5.6. The Maps app and its app bar.
To get the most out of Maps, you should make sure your Windows 8 PC has the Windows Location platform turned on:
- Press Windows Logo+W to open the Settings search pane.
- Type location.
- In the search results, click Location Settings. The Location Settings window appears.
- Activate the Turn On the Windows Location Platform check box (it it’s not checked already) and then click Apply.
You also need to give Maps (and other apps) permission to use your location. From the Start screen, press Windows Logo+I (or display the Charms menu and click Settings), click Change PC Settings, click Privacy, and then make sure the Let Apps Use My Location switch is On.
You use the Messaging app to exchange instant messages with your friends. By default, your “friends” are the contacts associated with your Microsoft account’s Messenger service. However, you can also connect your Microsoft account to your Facebook account and exchange instant messages with Facebook friends who are online.
To start a new conversation, right-click the screen and then click New to open the People app. Click Online Only to see who’s available to chat, click a contact, and then click Select. As you can see in Figure 5.7, the main part of the screen shows the current conversation, and the left side shows a list of your current conversations. Messaging also lets you know about new messages by displaying a notification when a message arrives, and by using its live Start screen tile to display recent messages.
Figure 5.7. The Messaging app lets you conduct multiple conversations with your friends.
If you want to change your status, right-click the screen, click Status, and then click an option: Online, Invisible, or Not Connected.
You use the Music app to play the music that’s on your PC, or to purchase new songs or albums. The main Music screen is divided into four sections:
- My Music—This section displays tiles for several of your albums, plus an extra tile that includes a Play All Music button. To see all your music, click My Music. To listen to an album, click it and then click Play. Once you have an album open, you can also click a song and then click Play to hear just that song. Click Add to Now Playing to show the current music in the Now Playing tile (discussed next).
- Now Playing—This section offers previews of upcoming music. Click a tile and then click Preview Top Songs to hear snippets from the album. This section also includes a large Now Playing tile that tells you what’s currently playing in the app.
- Xbox Music Store—This section offers several tiles for newly released albums. You can also click Xbox Music Store to see a complete list of new music organized by genre.
- Most Popular—This section offers several tiles for the most popular albums. You can also click Most Popular to see a complete list of popular music organized by genre.
In both the Xbox Music Store and Most Popular sections, click an album to open it (see Figure 5.8) and then click Preview to get a taste. If you like what you hear, click Buy Album. Alternatively, if you only want a particular song, click it and then click Buy Song.
Figure 5.8. When you open an album, you can either buy the entire album or just a song.
If you can’t find what you want in the Music app (and you probably can’t), use the Search contract to find what you’re looking for. Display the Charms menu, click Search, and then type the name of the band, album, or song.
The News app offers the latest news stories from various categories, which are listed on the main News screen and include World, Technology, Business, Entertainment, Politics, and Sports. The main screen also includes a Top Story section and a section related to news from your region. To see a list of the sources used by the News app, right-click the screen and then click Sources. In the Sources screen, you can also click a source to see articles from just that media outlet.
Most usefully, the News app includes a My News screen that enables you to display articles on those news topics that most interest you. Here’s how you set up the My News screen:
- In the News app, right-click the screen and then click My News. The News app opens the My News screen.
- If you have no sections added, click Add a Section (+). Otherwise, right-click the screen and then click Add a Section.
- Use the Add a Section text box to begin typing the news topic you want to follow. As you type, News displays a list of matching topics, as shown in Figure 5.9.
Figure 5.9. Type the news topic you want to add as a section in the My News screen.
- When you see the topic you want, click it.
- Repeat steps 2–4 to add other sections that interest you.
The People app may be the most ambitious of the default Windows 8 apps. Why? First, it’s a competent contacts manager that can store a wide variety of information about each person, including name, company name, email address, web address, street address, phone number, and job title. More significantly, People acts as the social networking hub for your Windows 8 PC. Not only does People automatically connect to the social network associated with your Microsoft account, but it can also connect that account to other social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (see Figure 5.10). To add a social network account, click Add More Accounts and then click the account type. From there, you log in to your social network and give permission for your Microsoft account to access your social network profile.
Figure 5.10. You can use the People app to connect your Microsoft account to a number of social networking accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Once you’re connected to other social networks, your contacts from those networks—for example, your Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, and the people you follow on Twitter—now appear in the People section of the app. You have various ways to view and interact with these contacts. To do this, you use the two main headings at the top of the People app screen (if you don’t see these headings, right-click the screen and then click Home):
- All—Displays a list of all your contacts. To view information about a contact and see that person’s latest social network activity, click the contact in the All section. The screen that appears enables you to view the person’s profile, view the latest updates, and see the latest photos.
- Social—Displays links to your social networks. To see the latest updates (tweets, Facebook posts, and so on), click the What’s New link. Note, too, that you can interact with these updates. For example, you can like or comment on a Facebook post, and you can favorite, retweet, or reply to a tweet. To see notifications from your social networks, Twitter mentions and direct messages, and similar items related to you, click the Me link.
The Photos app is the Windows 8 home for all your photos, both on your PC and in your social networks. The main Photos screen is divided into the following five sections:
- Pictures Library—Click this tile to see a list of the subfolders in your Pictures library, then click a subfolder to see its images.
- Facebook—If you’ve connected your Facebook account to your Microsoft account, click this tile to see a list of the albums on your Facebook profile.
- SkyDrive Photos—Click this tile to see the images in your SkyDrive’s Pictures folder.
- Flickr—If you have a Flickr account, click this tile to connect to that account and display your Flickr albums.
- Devices—Click this tile to view the photos on your connected devices. For this to work, each device must be running the SkyDrive software, available from http://skydrive.com/ windows.
In each case, once you open a folder you can scroll left and right through the images, or you can click an image to view it full-screen and then use the left and right arrow keys to navigate the rest of the photos. You can also right-click the screen and then click Slide Show to view the images in the current folder as an automatic slide show.
SkyDrive is a simple file uploader that enables you to send files from your PC to your SkyDrive:
- Click the SkyDrive folder you want to use as the upload destination.
- Right-click the screen and then click Add.
- Use the file picker screen to select the file you want to upload.
- Click Add to SkyDrive. The SkyDrive app uploads the file.
The Sports app is loaded with sports-related news, stats, and standings. The main Sports app screen is divided horizontally into four sections:
- Top Story—The top sports story of the day.
- News—The latest news stories from the world of sports.
- Schedule—Upcoming games in whatever major sports are currently playing.
- Favorite Teams—A list of the teams you’re watching. To add a team to your list, click Add (+), type the team name, and then click the team you want in the list that appears. You can then click the team to get extra information related to that team, including news (see Figure 5.11), schedules, results, individual stats, team stats, and the team roster.
Figure 5.11. Add your favorite teams to the Sports app to get great extra news and stats related to those teams.
You can also see extra news and data from various leagues by right-clicking the screen and using the app bar to click a league (such as NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL).
You use the Store app to access the online Windows Store and browse and purchase new Windows 8 apps for your Windows 8 PC. The main Store screen is divided into a number of app categories, including Spotlight, Games (see Figure 5.12), Social, Entertainment, Photo, Lifestyle, and Tools.
Figure 5.12. The main Store screen is organized into various categories, such as Games.
In each category, you have four choices:
- Click an app tile to see that app’s details.
- Click New Releases to see a list of the latest apps added to the category.
- Click Top Free to see a list of the most popular free apps in the category.
- Click the category name to see a complete list of the apps in the category. From there, you can filter the apps by price (for example, Free or Paid), and you can sort the apps (for example, by highest rating or by newest).
Clicking an app displays the app’s details, including its user rating, price, description and features, user reviews, permissions, and more. See also “Installing Apps from the Windows Store,” later in this chapter.
The Travel app is designed to help you research travel destinations and then book your trip once you’ve decided where to go. On the research front, the main Travel app screen is divided horizontally into four sections:
- Today—The top travel destination of the day.
- Featured Destination—Several tiles displaying travel destination chosen by the editors of Bing Travel. You can also click More to see an additional list of destinations.
- Panoramas—360-degree images from various locations.
- Articles—News articles about locations and travelling.
When you click a destination, the Travel app displays a screen devoted to that location (see Figure 5.13), which includes an overview, maps, weather, the recent currency exchange rate, photos and panoramas, lists of attractions, hotels, and restaurants, and travel guides.
Figure 5.13. Each destination screen offers lots of information of interest to potential travelers.
You can also see more destination and travel stories by right-clicking the screen and then clicking Destinations or Best of Web.
When you’re ready to book your trip, right-click the screen and then click Flights to book your airline tickets, and click Hotels to set up your accommodations.
You use the Video app to play the digital videos that are on your PC, to purchase or rent movies, or to purchase TV show episodes. The main Video screen is divided into four sections:
- My Videos—This section displays tiles for several of your videos. To see all your videos, click My Videos. To view a video, click it and the playback begins immediately. Move the mouse to display the playback controls (see Figure 5.14), which include the Pause/Play button, Fast Forward and Rewind buttons, and a scrubber to scroll through the video. You can also right-click the screen to see similar controls (Pause/Play, Previous, and Next) as well as a Repeat button that, when activated, starts playback from the beginning once the video ends.
Figure 5.14. Move the mouse during video playback to see the controls.
- Spotlight—This section offers previews of upcoming movies and TV shows. This section also includes a Now Playing tile that shows you what’s currently playing in the app.
- Movies Store—This section offers several tiles for newly released movies. You can also click Movies Store to see a complete list of movies organized by various categories (Featured, New Releases, Top Selling, Genres, and Studios). Click a movie and then click Buy/Rent to purchase or rent the movie.
- Television Store—This section offers several tiles for new TV shows. You can also click Television Store to see a complete list of TV shows organized by various categories (Featured, Last Night’s Shows, Free TV, Top Selling, Genres, and Networks). Click a show, display the show’s seasons, and then click a season. You can buy the entire season or click an episode and purchase just that episode.
The Weather app is a straightforward weather forecast program. When you first start the app, it might ask if it can use your location. If it’s your local forecast you’re after, click Allow and you’re pretty much done. You can also add other places to the Weather app:
- Right-click the Weather app screen and then click Places. The Places screen appears.
- Click Add (+). Weather prompts you to enter the city name.
- Start typing the name of the city you want to add.
- When you see the name of the city in the list that appears, click it. Weather adds the city to the Places screen.
You use the Games app to view your Xbox LIVE profile and activity and to purchase games for Windows 8 or Xbox. The main Games screen is divided into six sections:
- Xbox LIVE profile—This section displays your Xbox LIVE profile data, and also enables you to view your achievements and edit your profile.
- Friends—This section displays a list of your Xbox LIVE friends.
- Spotlight—This section offers previews of upcoming games.
- Game Activity—This section lists your active games.
- Windows Game Store—This section offers several tiles for newly released Windows games. You can also click Windows Game Store to see a complete list of Windows games organized by various categories. In addition, you can filter the games list by genre. Click a game and then click Buy to purchase the game.
- Xbox 360 Game Store—This section offers several tiles for newly released Xbox games. You can also click Xbox Game Store to see a complete list of Xbox games organized by various categories. In addition, you can filter the games list by genre. Click a game and then click Buy Game for Xbox to purchase the game.