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Microsoft no longer has an 'app gap' problem on Windows 10 (unless you're using a tablet)

Surface Book 2 and Lenovo X1 Yoga
Surface Book 2 and Lenovo X1 Yoga (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

With rumors emerging that Android apps might be supported on Windows Lite, the topic of the app gap popped back into discussions around the web, especially among people attached to UWP development. Since its initial debut, the Microsoft Store (formerly the Windows Store) has seen development bridges built, progressive web apps rolled out, and apps from big companies brought to the store. As always, Windows 10 still supports Win32 apps and web apps. Web apps have become increasingly important as companies move their interfaces to PWAs and web apps over dedicated apps for each platform. With all these changes, it's worth asking if the app gap that has plagued Windows for years is still a big issue.

Developing for Windows desktops

While 2-in-1s and tablets have increased in popularity, the majority of Windows 10 users are on desktops. That form factor brings mice, keyboards, and the ability to use Win32 apps without having to worry about trying to touch small icons. Additionally, desktop users can use the full potential of the web whether they're using Chrome, Firefox, Opera, or the Chromium version of Edge. With these browsers come extensions, web-apps, and web-optimized content.

Windows 10 PCs have never struggled to deliver programs and apps to users sitting at a desk. Whether it's for gamers, corporate users, or casual users who need a web browser and a word processor, desktops have been able to deliver a solid experience for years. In fact, the success of classic desktop applications and people's reliance on the web is a large contributing factor to why native UWP development ran into issues. Companies like Adobe don't need to rebuild their suite of apps because users can still run them on Windows 10.

If you want to look exclusively at apps available in the Microsoft Store, the app gap has greatly improved over the years. I contend that the Microsoft Store is already the best desktop store for applications. It's behind multiple stores when it comes to gaming, but if you want to download a powerful or popular application to a desktop computer, I'd rate the Microsoft Store higher than the Mac store. In my analysis of the state of the Microsoft Store I pointed out that there isn't a direct competitor to the entire Microsoft Store but there are many stores that compete with segments of it.

The Microsoft Store has changed into a home for powerful apps

Regardless of where a user downloads an app, the bottom line is that the vast majority of desktop-centered applications are on Windows. There are some exceptions, like Final Cut Pro, but those are few and far between.

Microsoft is still struggling with tablets

Where the app gap gets more noticeable is in the world of tablets. Detach the top of a Surface Book or flip around a Lenovo Yoga Pro and you're faced with a much more difficult situation. Because tablets are centered around touch, using a classic application built for mice is more difficult. Take Spotify as an example. Spotify used the desktop bridge to bring its desktop version of Spotify to the Microsoft Store. Even without the store entry, Spotify was, and is, available to users who download Spotify directly from the company website or use it through the web. Spotify's official app is useable on a tablet, but the UI elemtns are small and geared towards mice. A similar issue occurs when watching YouTube through a browser and with a number of other apps and services.

As always, third-party developers have filled the app gap to the best of their ability. Spotimo (opens in new tab) is a touch-friendly version of Spotify and Xpotify (opens in new tab) can even play Spotify within Windows Mixed Reality. YouTube, SoundCloud, and a number of other popular services have third-party clients that are the best way to use a service on a Windows tablet. But that doesn't matter to many users. As much as I can, and do, use third-party applications regularly, the average consumer doesn't want to use MixPlay when they search for Mixer in the Microsoft Store. The same case applies to myTube, AudioCloud, Xpotify, Unigram, Huetro, and many more apps. I personally prefer all of those apps to their counterparts on the web or even Android, but many users don't care, they just want an official app. You can argue all day if that's a reasonable feeling, but when evaluating the state of the app gap, we all have to admit that it is a common feeling.

Tablets are the biggest issue for the app gap, at least if you discount phones since Windows 10 Mobile is dead. Android tablets have failed to gain a foothold in the market. That leaves devices like the Microsoft Surface as the default number two tablet platform. But without touch-oriented apps and everyone's popular services being easy to use on Windows 10 tablets and 2-in-1s, the platform will always lag behind iPad. People will echo the chorus of "not quite a tablet" or similar themes unless the app gap closes for tablet apps.

Addressing the Android phenomena

While there's no guarantee that Android apps will ever arrive on any version of Windows, there are rumors that Windows Lite will support them. If that is the case, the app gap gets smaller, especially for a few specific applications. I did a roundup last week of five Android apps that would greatly help Windows. These apps aren't desktop-oriented and either lack third-party options or would appeal to casual consumers more. A great example is Kindle. While you technically can read Kindle books on a Windows 10 device, the app is ancient and poorly optimized for touch and devices that require text to scale.

Even if Android does ship to Windows in some shape or form, it might not address the real app gap issue of tablet apps. Android tablets are often criticized because many Android apps aren't built for tablets. A banking app might come to a version of Windows through Android, but that doesn't mean it's a tablet banking app.

Tablet apps have been a sore spot for any platform other than iOS. Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile didn't have a complete library of touch-friendly apps, and even Android can't get it done. There's a chance that mainstream support for tablet apps on a platform other than iOS might never come. If that's the case, the app gap will never truly close.

Moving forward on the Microsoft Store

Surface-Pro-Microsoft-Store

Surface-Pro-Microsoft-Store (Image credit: Windows Central)

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Windows 10 was once planned to share universal apps across phones, tablets, PCs, and the Xbox One. Now, Windows 10 Mobile is dead and while the Xbox One supports UWP apps, it certainly isn't a focus of the console. Instead, the hope is that Windows 10 apps will scale across desktops, tablets, Windows Mixed Reality, and foldable devices. When it comes to desktops, the app gap is likely about as closed as it's going to get. The vast majority of desktop apps are available in some way or another. But tablets and foldable devices will still struggle due to the app gap. Apps that aren't touch-oriented or that aren't on Windows at all will continue to hold touch-centric Windows devices back. Android support might help, but even the millions of Android apps that would come with Android support wouldn't entirely close the app gap.

Perhaps most importantly, even if the app gap is 90 percent, 95 percent or even 99 percent closed at any point in the future, people will still care about it. If a user is looking at a new device and there's a single app that's essential to their workflow that's on an iPad but not a Windows 10 tablet, they're going to go for the iPad every time. If you don't believe me, look at how many Mac users say they'd try out Windows 10 if it wasn't for Final Cut Pro. One app matters and the reality is that it isn't just one app that's missing from Windows.

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Sean Endicott
News Writer and apps editor

Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com (opens in new tab).

74 Comments
  • Tablets are a weird situation because really only Apple has a solid footing but even then, I picked up an iPad mini a few weeks ago and realized how many big names like instagram don't actually have a proper iPad app, and the experience of running a zoomed in phone app leaves a lot to be desired it's better to just use the website. Honestly I think a lot of it it just comes down to developer laziness with one side having devs who don't scale down from desktop and on the other side, ones who don't scale up from phone and settle for the UX being good enough. Between UWP (and the assorted bridges) and Apple's SDK, the tools are there for adapting across screen sizes and touch/mouse, they just don't bother.
  • I have to believe that PWA apps will eventually be the way 80% of new tablet apps are written. Sadly though I've believed that for ~ 2 1/2 years, and so far all we have to show for it on the MS Store is Twitter, Instagram, Hulu, Uber, Lyft. Not exactly a tidal wave.
  • Companies are ill inclined to reinvest in development, even if there are quite short term savings. People are stuck in their ways. Sometimes, it's just too complex to easily port (think facebook). Code like that is so involved, there probably isn't one person that understands it all. Over time, I'm sure that'll happen. PWAs are supported in the play store, and in the microosft store. So make one, and cover windows, android and the web. But yeah, it's slow. That said, there's a momentum thing. If in ten years time, most of the big names are on PWA, then it'll be default. Critical mass is the thing, and it's hard to know when that'll kick in.
  • Your take on Kindle on the Surface doesn't correlate to reality - I have an end of November version on my machine (so hardly "ancient") and it works flawlessly with touch only Even the lower end Surface Go runs circles around iPads & Android tablets (unless perhaps you're a small kidd who only plays games)
  • If you have the keyboard attached and use it like a laptop then the Go is fine, if not a bit slow. That isn't a tablet though. Remove the keyboard and the experience is terrible as a real tablet. No decent tablet UI and no ecosystem at all.
  • Unclear what you think a "real tablet" is - none of us have any problem using Surfaces (Go, 3, Pro 3, and Pro 6) as tablets and no issue with the "experience"
  • This while article is about how the tablet experience and tablet apps aren't good with Windows. You can use them, but it isn't ideal. Windows just isn't design around touch and the apps definitely aren't. If you are familiar with Windows, you can work around it. Either way, an iPad is a far superior touch experience.
  • Nevermind third party apps, the OS itself is also a bit of a mess to use on tablets.
  • Same here, except Bleached is ABSOLUTELY correct that the tablet experience generally for Windows is HORRIFIC compared to Windows 8. And Microsoft remains clueless.
  • Windows 8 was also terrible. It had a couple good features, but most of the OS was not touch optimized at all.
  • Agreed. This championing of 8 makes no sense.
  • The design of the current PC version of Kindle is awful. It's oriented towards keyboards and taking notes. It's a terrible experience for just reading a book. It could be a useful tool for studying, but it lags behind the Android and iOS versions of Kindle for reading on a tablet.
  • "Even the lower end Surface Go runs circles around iPads and Android tablets" I can't believe you typed that with a straight face (maybe you didn't)? I have a Surface Go, a Surface Pro 5, and an iPad Pro. The iPad handily beats the Surface Go in *every* respect when it comes to speed and fluidity of the UI. Raw benchmarks back that up (although as we know, benchmarks aren't perfect indicators of performance). The Surface Go might beat the iPad when it comes to flexibility (eg: I can run proper Photoshop on my Surface Go, if I'm crazy enough to want to). But in terms of raw speed the recent iPad and iPad Pro models are hard to beat. My SP5 (i7) feels laggy by comparison when browsing web pages and launching apps, whereas the iPad Pro is lightning fast. The majority of Android tablets out there aren't worth mentioning (especially in terms of performance). There are a couple contenders, but they still aren't in the same league as the Surface devices and the iPads.
  • Microsoft is no where near #2 in tablets. You are completely ignoring Samsung, Huawei, Amazon, etc. Samsung tablets alone out sell Surface like 10 to 1! Although Google isn't focused on Android or ChromeOS tablets, it is still a supported tablet platform. Android tablets still outsell Windows tablets by a very large margin, even if you count laptops with detachable keyboards.
  • True but the trend for android is down, and the trend for windows is up (has been for more than five years now). Plus that amazon is successful kinda shows that apps aren't everything, right? I think what they meant is that, going on the trend, android has no solid future in tablets. It's like seeing a crashing stock and saying, well, they aren't going to succeed. Google themselves seem to agree, in that they are shifting more to chrome on tablets, or trying to. They overstated or miscommunicated that though. Android is still CURRENTLY number 2, it just doesn't appear to have bright prospects if everything continues as it has, and windows MIGHT. Even the ipad has lost some ground. The pure tablet form factor has lost some whizz. That however doesn't factor in googles chrome tablet play. Or whatever apple might do next. The future is as always, uncertian.
  • Windows tablet numbers are tiny. The trend for Windows is up from like 0.1 to 0.14% for tablets, which aren't even tablets. They are laptops with removable keyboards. They are replacing/cannibalizing laptops. Phones are replacing tablets. The market these new machines like Centarus are going for isn't iPad. They can possibly take a bit there, but where the real growth can come from is legacy Windows devices. Traditional laptops and desktops. Anything running full Windows. Centarus will compete with Windows 10 first and foremost. http://gs.statcounter.com/os-market-share/tablet/worldwide
  • Look at those numbers and try to figure out how Windows is #2. Windows is down near Blackberry and Linux tablets!
  • Your stats are messed up since they count Surface devices, WoA, and 2 in 1s as <i>laptops</i> not tablets. I get your point about not competing with iPad though. And I don't think they should. Even if Surface remains a <i>niche</i> product, it can still be a "success", as it spurs on OEMs to innovate, leading by example.
  • Sorry to burst your bubble but that is Windows RT.
  • Ok, that makes more sense. They don't consider Windows a tablet operating system at all. Even WoA isn't included I assume.
  • 2 problems for tablets. 1 people don't pick up a Surface for tablet use exclusively and 2 the Windows tablet mode interface is FUGLY and not very touch friendly. Maybe CoreOS will help remedy this, but literally nothing has been done for some time with W10's tablet experience.
  • MS never had an app gap problem on Windows 10 unless you're using Windows 10 Mobile (which is their phone and tablet os). I sat there scratching my head wondering, is this dude for real. MS will never catch up so long as they laid to rest their mobile division. They should have kept it alive just to continue to evolve the mobile OS. But they're all about the cloud now, as if anyone actually cares about the cloud.
  • "as if anyone actually cares about the cloud" The cloud is making them an absolute boatload of money. We're talking multiple billions. It's just too bad they didn't have the foresight to have used the milk of that cash cow to keep mobile alive, if only as a niche, mainly enterprise, option. I can only assume that having <i>some</i> skin in the mobile game would have only boosted their cloud profits, if only by sake of retaining <i>some</i> mobile devs (enterprise and consumer), and those devs in turn using Azure to support their MS UWP and non-MS (Android/iOS) mobile UIs. I also believe they could have easily expanded into markets other than the US where market share was in double digits. Sadly, though, it is what it is. And we're left with a Store that grades an F in mobile computing, and a C- in PC. Maybe I'm just too stupid, certainly not Harvard educated, but it seems like eventually a lack of relevance in personal computing eats into one's <i>cloud</i> profits. Maybe not in the short term, but long term definitely. Bottom line... I wouldn't put my retirement into MS Stock unless you're fixing to retire in the next decade. Anything past that is a giant risk.
  • MS is the most solidly prepared for the future... What are you talking about the only other GAFAM with true weapons for the future is Amazon with their AWS service... Then you have Google trailing behind... And Apple being a fad with absolutely no foundation beside the mass market trend that will change sooner or later... Like it happened to Motorola, Nokia, Ericson with feature phones... MS is certainly way more future proof with the cloud than Apple is with th iPad, the Apple watch and the Apple store... Even iTune is questionable as business model going forward... While MS is number 2 far in front of number 3 in cloud which is the future... They are still dominating servers compared to other GAFAM, MS office is about as threaten by Google docks than PC are by Mac's.... Smartphone have been mature for close to a decade now and closer to decline... And apps is a obsolete business structure going forward.... I would definitely put more money in MS than any other GAFAM beside Amazon maybe and even them have less maturity and many unknowns in terms of business model that the risk is still higher.... But for a retirement plant at more than 10 years I wouldn't put anything in FB, apple, and more than 20 in Google, alphabet is another story, but with privacy laws FB and Google business model will defnetky get under more and more pressure going forward... I'm confident MS is by far the most stable and solid company in the GAFAM group
  • Pretty much everybody cares since the mobile industry is pretty much stagnant and won't innovate much from now on... The laptop is at the same landmark of maturity with some room in the ultra portable... The next paradigm is definitely cloud based 1nd around the corner... Tablets are useless gadgets in most cases today compared to a combo smarphone/laptop.... They become relevant truly the day we do things remotely and the need of powerful hardware decrease... With 5g just around the corner... Loud is actually the only thing that will matter for big companies to stay competitive....
  • Microsoft gave up the future of the company itself when they gave up true mobile.
  • What a load of BS. The app gap is a huge problem for Windows tablets and since Nadella screwed everything mobile over it has widened considerably. My two Surface devices are expensive dust collectors. I was a huge Microsoft fan but since Nadella entered the scene I use Android more than Windows privately.
  • I have to agree. Until I can get at least 50% of the apps I can on Android, on my Windows device, there is an app gap.
    And, that includes the most useful, and popular, apps. Throw in games, and we're at like 65%.
    (factor in quality, and we're down to like 20%, and maybe lower, but that's besides the point)
  • Did you all read the article? I spent like a fourth of it saying that there IS an app gap on tablets and that the lack or touch oriented apps on Windows is a problem. I even said Android apps won't fix it.
  • Rodneyej, RTFA and do better.
  • Lol... I totally didn't read the article this time😊😊😊😊😊
  • What games? I have an android phone and I have yet to find a decent game that is not a port of a console game.... The only one I found remotely enjoyable and worth calling a game is Clash Royal beside that calling an iOS or an android device a game device is like people counting solitary, spades, etc players as gamers back in the days... Sure tons of people play it doesn't mean they qualify.... It's like spirits it's not because everybody thinks that Bombay sapphire is top shelf gin, johny walker top whiskey, that it is.... Like McDonald's ain't a good burger joint heck I could even argue they are making burgers at all.... They are making **** that look like a burger... Same goes for games on mobile device as far as I have seen so far.... I have yet to find something I can qualify as a game more evolved than the free games you had on PC 3 to 4 decades ago... I don't call that an app gap''' I call that a good thing.... Android and apple are the rot of gaming because of that ****** model....
  • The article is about how there's an app gap for tablets and not desktops. The title is "Microsoft no longer has an 'app gap' problem on Windows 10 unless you're using a tablet." Also, I'd your Surfaces are collecting dust I'll gladly take them :-)
  • "What a load of BS. The app gap is a huge problem for Windows tablets..."
    From the section of this article literally titled "Microsoft is still struggling with tablets"
    "Where the app gap gets more noticeable is in the world of tablets."
    Seriously, I have to ask how you can be this obtuse, ignorant, and just plain bad at making a point? The whole goal of this article is to call attention to the tablet issue with Microsoft, yet it flew right over your head. I expect more from comments here, a certain expectation that you read the article. If you can't meet that, then please go to MSPU.
  • I wish people would use the term 'app' in a way that wasn't confusing. Windows has more apps than any other platform. What it has LESS of is touch freindly apps. But it still has about as many of those as amazon fire OS, with the number of significant apps increasing due to PWA. There's also a question of function. Like have you ever pulled out your surface and thought 'gee I must order an uber'? It's too big. And everyone has a phone. Device redundancy, that's where the real 'app gap' is; android can't do what windows does, or vice versa, and they overlap enough that having multiple systems is wasteful, environmentally, economically and in terms of user satisfaction. That SOMEONE is trying to solve that, even if it's a herculean task, is better than no one doing it, despite the knuckledraggers that would have us all still living in caves because that's how we've always done things.
  • Windows 10 is best for Mobile Phones, Tablets, and PC of all kinds. It's the best OS period. Especially WP8.1
  • When it comes to Windows, I rather use my traditional laptop. Tablet mode on W10 is a joke.
  • The problem with tablet mode is it's a mode... 🤔
  • I don't agree. It can be a well done mode. But it isn't.
  • I don't see the point in a tablet mode. There's really only three things to touch. One is scale, windows can be scaled easily. The other is gestures. Now perhaps windows could use more customizable gestures, but it's not without some very useful ones. The last one is menu selection, which on a good touch device can be just sliding your finger; drop downs and right clicks lack this sort of functionality in windows. But the point is, none of these things require a 'mode'. It's just a scale, and the operating system detecting an input mode.
  • Seeing as how there aren't any banking apps on the Microsoft Store, I think there still is a gap. In the mindset of a lot of people there still is an app gap problem. Especially when that one niche app that they actually use isn't available. A quick example: DJI.
    No one has made an up to date DJI app. (The only one I found was DJI Vision for Phantom 2)
    This is partially due to developer laziness (because Microsoft made SDK for DJI drones, yet no one has made an app!) and the other part due to the app being available on Android and iOS. So yes, there still is an app gap.
  • "Seeing as how there aren't any banking apps on the Microsoft Store, I think there still is a gap." Spot on! The MS Store's main demographic is primarily 50+. The next biggest demographic is 35-49. There's a few from 25-34. And hardly anyone younger. Seeing that their main bread and butter is the middle aged/older crowd, it stuns me that there are so few personal finance/small business finance, banking, option trading, or tax preparation applications on the store. MS could plug the hole by resurrecting MS Money, making it a true Mint competitor at a minimum, if not a QuickBooks competitor, even bundling a Win32 version with Office 365. The fact that they don't though well illustrates their entire approach to the MS Store. It's an afterthought.