Microsoft hopes PreApps site will help Windows 8 developers create pre-ship buzz and ultimately build more useful apps.
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For all the griping over Windows 8's omitted Start menu and other UI inelegancies, the biggest knock against the OS has arguably been its comparatively weak app catalogue. PreApps, a site that previews new apps before they hit the market, wants to change that.
The Boston-based startup only launched in January, but it has already forged a partnership with Microsoft. The deal will enable Windows developers to interact with potential users while building their apps, helping programmers build buzz and implement feedback-driven refinements as they approach an app store release.
PreApps, which is open to non-Windows platforms as well, is built to cater to both developers and app enthusiasts. For programmers, the site offers a free space to showcase in-development apps. The basic account allows a developer to post screenshots and descriptions, build a rapport with would-be customers and even offer his or her newest builds to beta testers. Users gain relatively direct access to the companies whose products they buy and a common space in which to follow evolving titles.
Thanks to the Windows deal, developers have until April 11 to secure a free upgrade to a "User Feedback" account, which, at $24.99, is otherwise the least expensive of several paid options. The package contains controls for managing user interaction, such as the ability to moderate comments left on an app's page. It also includes access to the page's traffic statistics and related analytics.
Redmond technology evangelist Jim O'Neil published a blog post with instructions for procuring the free upgrade. In the post, he praised the site's potential to create synergy between developers and their customers.
PreApps also sells "Featured" and "Featured Elite" packages for $49.99 and $99.99, respectively. These options include the ability to make custom surveys for users, and to place an app within the site's "featured" section. In addition to the "Featured Apps" section, PreApps also maintains a "Top Apps" page that is based on user voting and is not influenced by a user's account type.
"The average app out there is built by a freelance developer, and we definitely tailored the platform to provide for that," PreApps CEO and founder Sean Casto said in an interview. "There's not another place to market an app prior to release, unless you have a website and money for a PR campaign."
Casto said employees of his company are fixtures at Cambridge, Mass.-area networking meet-ups for developers, and that the relationship with Microsoft arose out of conversations at some of these events. Under the deal, PreApps will sponsor upcoming Microsoft developer events and Microsoft will publically encourage its developer community to use the startup's service.
Armed with feedback from their target audiences, Redmond hopes programmers will be more likely create unique and compelling user experiences. Windows 8 has amassed more than 50,000 apps since its October release, and it continues to grow. But compared to the iPad's market of more than 300,000 apps, Windows 8's touch-oriented Modern interface is a pretty limited option.
Microsoft is acquiring some popular titles. Twitter, for example, recently launched a native Windows 8 option. But such releases only make Windows 8 more competitive; they don't make it singular and persuasive -- the qualities Microsoft needs if it is going to lure iOS and Android users toward the next wave of Surface and Ultrabook models.
Casto expressed confidence that developers are up to this challenge, predicting that upcoming Windows 8 apps could exceed iOS and Android once developers learn to take advantage of devices like the Surface Pro. Casto said that more than 350 apps have been submitted to his site so far, and that about 30% of those apps have gone live. How those apps have fared hasn't yet been fully quantified, but Casto said he is starting to get metrics and feedback from the development community.
With any luck, Casto will see a lot more of that feedback. If the PreApps deal and similar initiatives fail to gain traction, however, concerned Windows 8 users might have to wait until the rumored Windows Blue update to see a major usability upgrade.
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