Interview: We talk to SweetLabs about Pokki for Windows 8

Windows 8 and its "Modern" UI represent the biggest change in Microsoft's OS since, well, ever. As a result, there are certainly some users who feel that they can't get used to the change. Enter companies such as SweetLabs, which recently released a free Windows 8 build of their Pokki application that helps people find, launch and organize their Windows 8 files.

We got a chance to chat with Chester Ng, the co-founder and CMO of SweetLabs, as he talks about Pokki for Windows 8, his thoughts on Windows 8 in general and more.

First, what can you tell us about SweetLabs in general?

We’re not your “typical” startup. First, we’re based in sunny San Diego and highly recommend you visit for our next interview, set on the beach. Second, we have a unique obsession with making the PC better. While all the Silicon Valley “cool kids” focus exclusively on mobile, we see an enormous base of PC users (1.3 billion at last count) and developers (who have created 4 million desktop apps) who have been left out of the party. The PC experience is overdue for a renovation and that is why we created Pokki. In case you’re interested in our vitals: 60 employees, founded in 2008 by ex-DivX guys, have raised $21.5 million to-date from Google Ventures, Intel Capital, Bessemer, and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures

How did the idea for Pokki come about?

We’ve all enjoyed, as users and developers, tremendous innovation on smartphones and tablets the past 5 years. Yet, the device that more than a billion of us sit in front of all day long, the PC, can feel prehistoric. Starting with the app experience – the way that users discover and access apps and the way that developers build and distribute apps. We’ve been involved in PC apps for over a decade and a billion downloads, between previous companies and products. So, we were inspired to take a swing at proving that PC users can enjoy apps and an app experience as fun and convenient as iOS and Android, using your trusty keyboard and mouse.

Even if you’re on Windows freakin’ XP! Now, with Windows 8 and the removal of the Start Menu, we saw a need for a central access point for all your apps and frankly, all the rest of your stuff (files, folders, settings, power options). Built for a keyboard and mouse, but also complementary to the touch-oriented Metro interface.

When you first heard about Windows 8 and the Windows Store, what was your first reaction?

As PC fanboys (yep, they exist), we were excited. Microsoft is an oddly enormous and dominant “underdog”, so you have to love that they’re throwing down with a bold, innovative proposition. As the details unfolded, it became clear that Microsoft was focused much more on the touch interface and use case, so this just reinforced our focus on bringing innovation to the point-click-type interface and traditional PC use case.

Why do you think people will need a program such as Pokki for Windows 8?

We think that people transitioning to Windows 8 will need a bridge, particularly those who don’t intend to throw out their keyboard, mouse, or decades of PC usage habits they’re accustomed to. Pokki is that bridge. With the absence of the Start Menu, we think people will need an easy and convenient way to access all their stuff (apps, files, folders) and control their computer (settings, control panels, power options) from the comfort of their desktop. Add to that the modern app experience with hundreds of free apps and games that over 2 million monthly active users already enjoy and we think that Pokki will resonate with Windows 8 users.

Overall, what makes Pokki stand out from other Windows 8 Start menu apps? 

Pokki doesn’t just bring back the old Start Menu. The old Start Menu is old. And outdated to not reflect today’s use cases and expectations. Pokki brings a familiar, yet modernized take on the Start Menu. For example, we added the ability to search and favorite anything to a smartphone-like “home screen” – whether it’s a program, a control panel, a website, a Pokki app, or even a Metro (aka Modern UI aka Windows 8 Store aka Windows 8) app.

Overall, are there any tricks to making a touch screen based Windows 8 app or game compared to making a regular PC app?

While obvious, at the very least the design needs to be touch friendly. Beyond that, you want to embrace the input method, touch in this case, of the device (i.e how a user holds the device, how a user uses the device) as this itself can influence the very functionality of the app or game itself. “One-size-fits-all” apps don’t work.

What's the reaction been like to the Windows 8 version of Pokki so far? 

It’s only been a week, but thus far, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. People seem to really enjoy the familiar, yet modern take on the Start Menu as well as the Pokki app experience and apps. In fact, we’re seeing that users of this new Windows 8 version are 3 times more active than users of the previous versions, largely because of the new Pokki Menu. People also seem to like the price tag – free.

What plans do you have about adding to Pokki for Windows 8 in future updates?

We have an update coming soon, that will provide better integration with the Windows 8 Modern UI (fka Metro), such as searching for, launching, and favoriting of installed Windows 8 apps from the Pokki Menu. Beyond that, I’d tell you but would have to kill you (or someone else would kill me!). Suffice to say, we think we’re onto something here and are investing heavily in some exciting updates that are all about making Pokki, Windows 8, and the overall PC experience better.

How do you feel about some of the comments made by other developers that feel that the Windows Store and Windows 8 are making the PC more of a closed system?

I’m certainly sympathetic to other developers like game makers/distributors (like Steam) or browser makers (like Chrome, Firefox), who feel that the Windows Store, Windows RT, and Windows 8 in general is trending towards “closed.” Ultimately, the PC has thrived on “open,” from providing users the choice and flexibility to tailor their PC experience to their liking, and developers the opportunity to innovate and improve upon this experience. With Pokki, we plan to continue the tradition of providing developers a platform to build and distribute awesome apps in an environment that’s not tied down to a single device, OS, browser, search engine, or social network. We’ve started with supporting Win 8, 7, Vista, XP and will launch Mac support next.

Finally, is there anything else you wish to say about Windows 8 and its upcoming launch?

As someone who has been a PC (user) all my life, I’m anxious to see how this all plays out. In fact, I’m in New York right now preparing for the festivities – the first round of Start Menus is on me! No matter how it plays out, we’ll continue to focus on making the PC better whether that means providing a bridge (and Start Menu) to Windows 8 users or empowering all Windows users to enjoy a modern app experience built naturally for your trusty keyboard, mouse, and PC.

We would like to thank Chester for answering our questions!

Image via SweetLabs

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