Interview: News360's CEO updates us on Windows 8 app development

In November, we chatted with Roman Karachinsky, the CEO of News360, a company that has made a number of successful mobile newsreader apps, including a version for Windows 8. Now that Microsoft's latest OS has been available for a number of months, we wanted to get Karachinsky's opinion on current app development for Windows 8, his thoughts on Windows 8.1, the closing of Google Reader and more.

First, News360 launched its Windows 8 news reader several months ago. What did the company learn about Windows 8 and making Windows 8 apps during this process?

We were actually one of the very first apps in Windows Store, back when Windows 8 was still in 'Consumer Preview' - we developed the Win8 version of News360 together with Microsoft, and it was a pretty interesting experience. Although there have been some bumps as the platform matured and changed for the production release, we are overall very big fans of the development tools and the overall process of creating apps for Windows Phone and Windows 8 - out of all the major mobile OS's it's probably the easiest to develop for. There are some limitations that the interface and the style guidance force upon you, but once you embrace the Windows 8 way of UX design, it's very refreshing and simple.

How many downloads of the News360 Windows 8 app have been recorded so far and are those numbers at or close to your expectations?

We're in the low hundreds of thousands of downloads on Win8, which isn't bad, but not spectacular for us when comparing to other platforms. Our app, as most Win8-native apps, really makes most sense on a touch-based device, and there just aren't enough of them in the wild to compete with iPads and Android tablets in our usage numbers. On desktops and conventional notebooks, where the number of devices isn't an issue, the experience is still good, but I think most users prefer the classic windows interface and don't take full advantage of Metro/Modern UI.

What sort of improvements and changes have been made to the Windows 8 app since its release?

We've done a single major update since the release, which was mostly about performance and fixing large portions of code that were written back in the Consumer Preview days and could be improved with the latest frameworks. Sounds boring, but we were able to get 3x speed improvements in some areas, which made a very big difference for the user experience.

What plans does News360 have to add to the Windows 8 app in the future?

We have a number of interesting things we're developing (on Win8 and other platforms), but I can't really talk about them yet.

Windows 8 has come under some heavy criticism since the launch and sales of new PCs have been slowing. What do you think Microsoft needs to do to help improve sales of Windows 8 PCs?

Tough question. I think that tablets are probably the bigger threat to PCs than other desktop platforms, so putting more resources into that market is what's needed. A much cheaper Surface would help, especially if they can still retain the x86 compatibility. Right now there is just no good alternative for consumers looking for a good, cheap Windows-based tablet - the RT is too slow and limited and the Pro is way too expensive.

What do you think about the changes that have been revealed for Windows 8.1 via the leaked builds on the Internet?

I think they make sense. As I said, from our experience we see that while the Modern UI interface is nice to have on the desktop, and is absolutely great on touch devices, people don't want it to be the center of the experience on conventional PCs.

Google has also been criticized for planning to end support for Google Reader. Has News360 seen an increase of users since this announcement?

Definitely, although it feels a little wrong - we were very active Google Reader users ourselves at some point, and really loved the product. Right now, though News360 is solving a very different problem from Reader - instead of giving you updates on a specific set of feeds, we're about understanding your interests and finding great content for you from source you might not even know about. That said, we are working on some features to help people migrating from Reader to News360 - you'll see them a little closer to the July 1st "dead"-line.

We would like to thank Roman for answering our questions!

Image via News360

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Surface Pro is priced fairly and News360, well, I tried it, un-installed it and stuck with Newsbento and Bing..

Also, on my surface, the web experience is useable enough that I don't really *need* an app for it. Flash works, HTML5 works, performance is great.. in fact, news360, felt slow and chunky. may give the newer version a try and wish them the best of luck


I haven't seen anything similar priced lower... so.....

and iPads aren't cheap either, and can do less. but that's a different discussion.

I like the News360 app, that and NewsBento, my two quick tools for news.

Tigurinn said,
"the [Surface] Pro is way too expensive."

Completely agree

The price is right for what is inside the machine and the quality of the build. Actually if anything Surface Pro is on the low side.

An Intel Core machine with active digitizer costs what it costs. They could have used a Core i3 I suppose to lower the price.

I don't think there is anything wrong with selling a pro-grade tablet that can replace your laptop. Not every tablet has to be marketed like an iPad. There are other market segments that Apple is not serving at all. In phones its the low end, in tablets it is the high end.

I have a lot of problems with the things that were said in this interview. Microsoft's future depends on the Metro app store. So getting consumers using those apps regardless of PC type is of paramount importance. Having people choose to live in the desktop on laptops and desktops should be considered unacceptable to the company. Making users happier with Windows 8 does not solve their overriding problem of needing a thriving app store, in fact it could exacerbate the main challenge by making users even less inclined to use Metro. If Microsoft does not transition its users to Metro apps then Windows will have its user base eventually cut to a 1/3 or 1/4 of what it is today. Windows PC's are heavy lifting production tools in a world with light-production content consumers. Falling back on the Windows desktop is a recipe for disaster for Windows.

Edited by Avatar Roku, Apr 25 2013, 2:10pm :

Avatar Roku said,

The price is right for what is inside the machine and the quality of the build. Actually if anything Surface Pro is on the low side.

But you see the problem is that consumers don't want to pay $1000+ for a tablet.

Avatar Roku said,

I don't think there is anything wrong with selling a pro-grade tablet that can replace your laptop.

Where I live, and in the store I shop the most, the cheapest Surface is still more expensive than most budget laptops. I'm in college and thus on a budget; not a gamer - so one of them cheap laptops would be my number one choice.

Pluto is a Planet said,

But you see the problem is that consumers don't want to pay $1000+ for a tablet.

Exactly. The Surface Pro is a great product, but it's aimed at a fairly small segment. It's the consumer-tablet market that's been eating into PC sales - and there is just no compelling Win8 product there to stop the bleeding right now.