Memo to Microsoft's Ballmer: Windows RT App Quantity Doesn’t Equal Quality

Microsoft's CEO made a cameo appearance during the International CES 2013 keynote to say that the number of available apps for Windows 8 and RT quadrupled since last October. But a look at a few such apps shows they're lagging behind their iOS and Android counterparts when it comes to quality.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer busted in on the CES 2013 keynote Monday night to "beat the big drum for Windows 8 and Windows RT devices." Ballmer trumpeted the fact that the number of Windows Store apps has quadrupled since last fall's Windows 8 launch. CNN and Twitter apps are also apparently on the way.

But, as we all know, quantity does not equality quality.

I enjoy using Office 2013 software on my Microsoft Surface RT tablet. But the third-party apps, overall, don’t measure up to what you’d get on an iPad or Android tablet. I’ll give you three examples.

* Dropbox. I’m a huge Dropbox fan, and I was excited to see that there’s finally a native Dropbox app for Windows 8 devices. Various Dropbox clients I’ve tried on my Surface RT tablet have been unreliable—not much more than file browsers. Unfortunately, the free Dropbox Windows 8 app isn’t much better.

The app, which was released a few days ago, is at times unstable, causing me to restart my Surface after just a few minutes of use. Browsing files is a challenge; Dropbox only displays them in alphabetical order as vertically arranged icons that you swipe through. You can search for files using the Windows Charm bar, however.

You can open and edit a file from Dropbox, but you can’t upload it back to Dropbox. Dropbox on iPad and Android have limitations, too, compared to the desktop software and browser versions. But the Windows 8 app on the Surface RT feels like a rushed, incomplete effort. 

Dropbox for Windows 8

* The Wall Street Journal. The Journal is required reading for me, and I particularly appreciate the paper’s iOS and Android tablet editions. (The Journal’s apps are free but most articles require a paid subscription.) Compared to those other apps, however, the Windows 8 Journal just doesn't stack up.

For instance, you can’t adjust the font size or share an article via email, Facebook or Twitter. And I like how the iPad and Android versions provide a vertical bar on the right-hand side, making it easy to jump to other articles within the section you’re reading—another feature that's MIA in the Windows 8 tablet app.

* Flixster. This is a terrific free app for movie lovers. The iOS edition has the most features, and the Android version is close behind. But here again, the Windows 8 app is lacking.

Let’s say you want to see Zero Dark Thirty (a film that’s a bit overrated, in my opinion). Using Flixster on the iPad, you get the Rotten Tomatoes score; the overall audience rating; local show times; and the abilities to view the film’s trailer, add the film to your Netflix queue, or check in when you’re at the theater. You can also learn about the actors, read snippets of reviews, click a snippet to read the entire review and rate the movie yourself on Facebook.

The Windows 8 app, by comparison, doesn’t show audience ratings, offers no Netflix option, doesn’t provide information on the actors, doesn’t let you read full reviews, and so on. In other words, it offers about half the features in the iOS Flixster app.

Granted, Windows 8 is only a few months old, and third-party apps will no doubt improve both in quantity and quality. But for now, they’re running a distant third behind iOS and Android, regardless of what Steve Ballmer wants you to believe. 

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