CES 2012: Hands On With Windows 8 Metro Apps

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When Microsoft’s first app store for Windows 8 opens its doors online at the end of February, what will turn up inside? How are those beta Metro UI apps coming along? TabletPCReview picked up some hints through hands-on demos of emerging Metro apps on Kupa’s Intel x86-based tablet, along with news emanating from sources in a variety of other corners of CES in Las Vegas.

Windows 8 apps

Despite the expected availability of ARM tablets based on chipsets from companies like Qualcomm and NVIDIA, Kupa will stick with the Intel Atom Oak Trail processor for its ucpoming Windows 8 device, said Mark Peng, Kupa’s deputy general manager, during a hands-on session with TPCR at the ShowStoppers press event at CES,

“Intel is a strong and solid platform,” he maintained. Peng also predicted that Metro app development wil take much longer on the ARM side due to the need to recompile the apps. “ARM is a completely different animal,” he elaborated.

Metro apps devised for Intel- and AMD-based x86 tablets should also work on x86 notebook and desktop PCs. Many of the apps shown on Kupa’s tablet could well turn up in Microsoft’s first App Store, now slated for arrival along with the second built of Windows 8 at the end of February.

With the exception of a Windows 8 appsMetro UI game called Johnny Wants to Surf, and a Metro iteration of the ArtRage fingerpainting app, the apps running on Kupa’s demo unit were part of the initial set of 28 Metro preview apps bundled with the first build of Windows 8 back in September.

It’s impossible to say, though, how many other Metro apps are now in the works, or how many might be ready by the end of February. Peng also spoke highly of a GPS-enabled app known as Distance, but it wasn’t aboard Kupa’s Windows 8 demo unit.

Meanwhile, Ambient Design hasn’t yet officially announced the Metro edition of ArtRage, despite the unveiling of an iPhone edition of the app earlier this week. Earlier, xMath told TPCR that it is testing math and calculator apps for Windows 8.

Windows 8 apps

Although announcements of Windows 8 apps have been scanty at CES this week, CyberLink officially rolled out three of them in the multimedia category: the PowerDVD Metro media player; YouCam Metro, for capturing videos and applying special effects; and PowerDirector, for video editing.

Quite ironically, too, Windows 8 will supposedly be able to run some 4,000 apps from Android OS via virtualization, thanks to the recently announced Blue-Stacks App Player.

In yet another announcement at CES, Windows 8 is also now set to get Tobii’s Gaze “eye control” natural user interface (UI). However, the “look and tap” UI isn’t expected to enter the mainstream until at least 2013.

Hands on with Metro Apps
In the hands-ons, results were mixed with the apps running on Kupa’s tablet. Some Metro apps seemed to run flawlessly, including ArtRage, another fingerprinting app called PaintPlay, Piano, and the Memories of Your Life scrapbook app.

Much fuller-featured than PaintPlay, the Metro iteration of ArtRage contains tools familiar from the iPad version. I played around with the color wheels and brushes.

Piano’s keyboaWindows 8 appsrd was kind of cramped on the tablet screen, but the iPad version of the app shares the same issue. Still, I was able to play chopsticks (although I’m not sure how the tune would have sounded, since the audio wasn’t turned on).

Aleady existing non-Metro Windows 7 apps such as Evernote also operated fluidly on Kupa’s tablet.

On the other hand, some Metro apps — such as Measure It and Near Me, another GPS app — wouldn’t even open at all. A couple of other apps crashed in progress (yet Windows 8 itself did not).

Peng, however, blamed these problems on Windows 8, as opposed to the apps. “That’s just Windows 8 bugs. Windows 8 is still subject to random crashes and other glitches,” he contended.

Windows 8 apps

Hopefully, Microsoft will also add a bunch of needed bug fixes in the second build of Windows 8 due out in February, along with the first version of the app store.

Meanwhile, as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in his keynote this week, Microsoft’s first app store will contain free apps only, with paid apps to be incorporated later. This would appear to temporarily exclude apps such as ArtRage, which are paid apps on other OS platforms.

Hardware Specs and Pricing
Hardware specs for the Kupa X11 tablet include a 1362-by-768 (720p) 10.1-inch display; and ten hours of battery life. The slick-looking tablet weighs in a 2.1-pounds.

Kupa currently sells the same touch-creen tablet running Windows 7 Professional on Amazon.com at pricing of $799 with 3G and Wi-Fi and $699 for Wi-Fi only. “We’ll add Windows 8 [to the tablet] whenever Microsoft says we can,” Peng noted.

The Windows 8 editioWindows 8 appsn will also include the same fingerprint reader as the Windows 7 version. The reader, though, hasn’t yet been enabled for Win 8.

Although Kupa is based in China, its tablets are manufactured in California, according to Peng.

Peng thinks that, once it’s stable and mature, Windows 8 will carry an important advantage over Windows 7. “The advantage is that apps will run consistently across a broad range of hardware platforms, maybe even including TV,” he said.

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