There is a need for only five Metro style apps in the world.

Over the past week I have spent some time playing with Windows 8 and the Samsung Windows 8 Developer Preview Device (SW8DPD). If you’ve spent any time lurking around the Start page or trying out the Metro apps you’ve likely come to the same conclusion I have. There are only five (5) Metro style application types. All of the Metro style app samples in the Windows 8 Developer Preview fit pretty nicely into one of these five categories, which leads me to assert that these are the five intended categories for Metro style apps – anything else is meant for Desktop mode.

Windows 8 Start Screen
Windows 8 Start Screen

In my earlier post (I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong.) I talk about Visual Studio as a Desktop mode application – some applications just aren’t metro sexual style. So if Visual Studio is—as an example—not meant to be Metro style, what is? What are the five application types.

First let me inventory the Metro style apps (I am excluding Windows resources and tools, including Control Panel, Alarms and Store).

  • Internet Explorer (obvious)
  • Build (a Build conference schedule and experience app)
  • Tweet@rama (a Twitter client)
  • Socialite (a Facebook client)
  • Stocks (a stock market data viewer)
  • Headlines (an RSS feed aggregator)
  • Weather (a weather data viewer)
  • 5 (a tic tac toe like 2-D game)
  • Piano (a piano simulator)
  • picstream (a picture feed viewer)
  • Zero Gravity (a 2-D game)
  • Measure It (a measuring tool that uses pictures and relative sizing)
  • PaintPlay (a free-painting tool)
  • Tile Puzzle (a 2-D puzzle game)
  • Near Me (a location-based data viewer to find activities near you)
  • Tree House Stampede (a 2-D spelling game)
  • Labyrinth (an accelerometer based maze game)
  • Mopod (a podcast viewer/player)
  • Tube Rider (a 2-D game)
  • Memories (a magazine/scrap book style photo and video viewer)
  • Sudoku (a 2-D puzzle game)
  • CheckM8 (a 2-D chess game)
  • Air Craft (a 2-D game/tool to design and create paper airplanes)
  • Word Hunt (a 2-D Scrabble-type game)
  • Copper (an immersive/3-D video game)
  • Flash Cards (a children’s educational game)
  • Ink Pad (a note taking app for the stylus)
  • Bit Box (a music creation app)

Whew! That’s a lot of Metro style.

Let me group these apps into the five types I believe there are. Consider this your guidebook to Metro style apps. If its not in this list, don’t Metrofy it.

Data Snacks

  • Stocks
  • Weather
  • Near Me

Data Snack apps enable users to consume small chunks of information in a hurry as time permits. These apps are used regularly and repetitively by users during “down-time” (e.g. waiting in a lobby, on the metro (pun intended), before a meeting, etc.).

Social Networking / Mash-Ups

  • Tweet@rama
  • Socialite

If you want to know where people spend their time on a computing device (PC, Phone, iPad), its here in the Social Networking / Communication / Collaboration category. More often than not consumers are using one of the many social networking client apps available (e.g. Twitterific) and in some cases those client apps bring-together (or mash-up) multiple social networking APIs (e.g. TweetDeck) or other unique options.

Content / Media Applications

  • Headlines
  • picstream
  • Memories
  • Mopod

Consumers, and especially device users, are expecting more out of content than simply text. More often than not content is being delivered in rich ways, more like well produced magazines (e.g. Flipboard) than just content feeds. The magazine-style applications are evolving to deliver more richness thorugh integrated media (e.g. Memories use of photos and videos).

Casual Games

  • 5
  • Piano
  • Zero Gravity
  • Measure It
  • PaintPlay
  • Tile Puzzle
  • Tree House Stampede
  • Labyrinth
  • Tube Rider
  • Sudoku
  • CheckM8
  • Air Craft
  • Word Hunt
  • Flash Cards
  • Ink Pad
  • Bit Box

Based on the proportion of apps in this category, it feels like this is where Microsoft would like to succeed (it also happens to be where iOS is killing it).

Games are the king, and probably will be. If you haven’t played Angry Birds, then you live on an island and are likely reading this off a print out that floated to you in a bottle because you don’t have WiFi, an iPad or power. It is ridiculous how much time we all spend playing games. But not XBox games…casual, easy to play games…like Angry Birds, or Mafia Wars, or CityVille (over 20-million users).

Graphical Games

  • Copper

This category is about highly graphical, fully immersive games. These are typically produced by game studios and include racing games, first person shooters, and other fully immersive, highly interactive games. These are games that would be most likely built for Windows 8 with DirectX and C/C++.

…and I’m Out

So there you have it, the five types of Metro apps – Data Snacks, Social Networking/Mash-ups, Content/Media, Casual Games and Graphical Games. Two things are missing – the Build app (maybe this is a content app, but mostly it’s a tax – how could Microsoft give out devices at Build without a Build app), and Line-of-Business (LOB) apps. Frankly, unless you are building a touch-centric app for agents using 3G devices in the field, Metro style is no style for LOB. Stick with Desktop mode and Silverlight/WPF for LOB apps.


7 thoughts on “There is a need for only five Metro style apps in the world.

  1. Doug-

    That seems like a very limiting view to me. I see Metro as good for anything that people are developing iPhone and iPad apps for now, which is indeed a large world. One I will be specifically pitching is travel booking app for my current client that already does them for most other major devices that have large reach (sorry, no Windows Phone in that group :p).

    Anything where the cadence is “browse, analyze, browse, act”, and where you can somehow make a great user experience around the act part, seems viable to me.

  2. I keep looking at the Metro interface for its possibilities as a business dashboard, rather than having to build it myself. The idea that my business application would have multiple widgets, each displaying different bits of data that convey urgency and priority to a user is fascinating – and then the user picks which data to act on and is drawn into the application for that data.

    It feels like that falls into your data snacks thinking, because it prompts further action. There’s also the possibility that clicking on that widget actually takes you to a Good Old Fashioned Windows App (GOFWA) from there.

    1. I agree Richard and we are designing just such an app now. LOB definitely has a place in a metro world. The metro paradigm as you describe works well with MVVM modular apps and can be expanded to other platforms with different form factors very easily offering consistency across platforms and eliminating a lot of headaches revolving around different form factors and finally it’s what users are going to expect and already expect from their smart phones today so it’s not exactly breaking new ground.

  3. Thanks Doug — I too feel that gives a good perspective of the types of apps to develop for Metro and would probably further simplify it to either being simple games or mainly read-only type summary data with limited need for interaction that should be targeted for Metro.

    If you’ve got a high data entry intensive LOB app like an accounting package, order system, etc. then making the entire thing for a tablet or phone or Metro is crazy. Maybe parts of a high data entry LOB app can be built for mobile (ie. an order system could have a “dashboard” type Metro/HTML or whatever simple app to give a high level mainly read only overview/summary of sales, etc.)

    Despite how much common sense that makes there’s still a lot of people that think high data entry LOB apps should now be targeting the new Metro or HTML/JS without really considering how users will use those apps over the long run.

  4. Doug I could not disagree more.

    At the very least I think you need to expand your definition to include LOB apps for the simple reason that most consumers of LOB apps expect it to be available to them on every platform they choose and they expect full functionality on those platforms.

    I know this to be true as a maker of a very widely used business app that has a web and windows desktop interface for over a decade now.

    Users adopt way faster than we expect every time and they will go where they perceive things to be “modern”.

    In 3 years a windows desktop app will be old, ugly and legacy in the eyes of a populace who have become completely used to tablets and smartphones with their “metro” style apps (which it can be argued the majority already have today on Android, wp7, iP* etc etc etc).

    It is not our job to say what the user should and shouldn’t do with their devices, if they want to use a LOB app on a tablet while in a warehouse or on the road then we must support it and they *will* ask for that, anyone who doesn’t think so has no experience in the trenches of making business software for sale to the public at large.

    What you say might apply to a corporate developer working on in-house stuff only but even so I doubt it will last long there either.

    Frankly the future is here now: in case anyone wasn’t paying attention go into an electronics store and see what is taking up the majority of space on display: tablets and smart phones, some netbooks, fewer notebooks and *precious* few desktop computers.

    Hell, try and buy a mouse pad and remember fondly the days of 50 different ones when you eventually find the rack buried in the back somewhere with 1 or two different mouse pads on it. 🙂

    It’s simply delaying the inevitable and irresponsible to make a desktop app these days if you’re starting out fresh and you will be in for a world of pain porting it over eventually anyway.

    Metro style tiled UI can work for LOB apps and furthermore it’s a design that works gracefully across the gamut of platforms with their different sizes and factors so it can equally be used as a paradigm for html 5 / jquery interfaces as well which we have on the drawing board now for our next major release.

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