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Windows Store Weekly: UWP Apps can now have Insider rings just like Windows 10

Windows Store Weekly is a weekly roundup of what's been going on in the world of Windows apps, from the most prominent and anticipated, to the bolted and patched, and the fresh and promising, while also scooping up leaks.

This week has seen some action in the Windows Store in terms of updates and new arrivals, but that's not the most exciting part. As we inch closer to the release of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, it becomes ever more clear how the Windows Store will help Microsoft in making people go from "needing Windows, to choosing Windows, to loving Windows", so read on and enjoy another weekly roundup of reasons why that may well happen pretty soon.

Updated and bolted

If you’ve been using Groove Music in Windows 10, you might have noticed that not all of its features were “universal”. This week, a new update for the app was rolled out to Windows Insiders, which brings the exact same build of Groove Music on both PC and mobile. This is the first app update that is rolled out in the same manner as Windows Insider builds.

The app will first be tested by Insiders, so that Microsoft engineers get a better chance to iron out the issues before it is released to the general public. The new Groove Music update also includes a number of new features and improvements to the user experience (including gapless playback), along with some known issues that you can read about here.

If you don’t like the official Twitter app in Windows 10, you have a number of third party alternatives to choose from, and ‘Tweet It’ is one of them. The UWP Twitter client was launched in December 2015, and has since received a constant stream of updates, the latest of which has dropped this week.

Tweet It will set you back $3.99 (usually $5.99), and features a couple of notable differentiators such as Microsoft Band and Pocket integration, in addition to the most important features that you’d expect from a Twitter client. Here’s the full list of changes in the 2.7.0 update:

- UI improvements for mobile devices
- Huge UI improvements for Continuum

- Performance improvements when streaming tweets
- Performance improvements for rendering tweets and etc.
- Improved composing tweet experience
- Added support for GIF upload
- Added GIF search panel when composing tweet
- Added last photos panel when composing a tweet
- Ability to show quick action buttons under tweets

- Microsoft Band sync improvements
- Localization improvements
- New style for CommandBar (panel with buttons at the bottom)
- New style for ScrollBar
- Filters improvements
- Sharing improvements
- Added ability to lock display rotation in native orientation
- Added panel with all hotkeys list
- Added settings for composing tweets

- Improved application launch experience
- Added preview in appearance settings panel

The Garmin Connect Mobile app has also received a significant update this week, which adds support for the Vivofit 3 and Vivoactive HR fitness trackers. There are also some new social features, as well as improvements to the user experience, and device pairing should now be more reliable. Here is the full list of changes:

  • • My Community Snapshot uses the Snapshot feature to show you what your friends are doing on leaderboards.
  • • Paddle boarding and rowing sports have been added as activity types.
  • • Audio prompts for supported devices give you in-ear notifications of your performance.
  • • If you are a group admin, you can now manage your groups from Garmin Connect Mobile!
  • • We have added V02, FTP and Lactate Threshold Stats in the Performance Stats menu.
  • • Windows now supports vivofit 3 and vivoactive HR.
  • • View your group challenges and leaderboards by going to your group’s detail view.

Word Mobile, Excel Mobile, and PowerPoint Mobile are also among the apps that received an update. All three apps now feature contextual commands for quick editing, and a Bing-powered ‘Smart Lookup’ feature. As the name suggests, it allows you to press and hold on a word or phrase to get access to more information from the web.

In terms of individual updates, Word Mobile now allows you to do quick edits to a table (without going back to Excel), such as resizing rows and columns. Excel Mobile now has support for .csv files, and PowerPoint Mobile features more options for text formatting, such as superscript and subscript, as well as splitting text into columns for improved readability.

As always, there have been plenty of ‘placebo updates’ this week in the form of bug fixes, stability improvements, and small tweaks for several apps, including:

New arrivals

The new Windows App Studio Installer app has been available in the Windows Store for a month now, however it was not until this week that Microsoft made it official. The new app should make it easier for you to sideload apps you’ve created using Windows App Studio, as well as share them with your friends and family. Basically, the process is now as simple as clicking on a link, or scanning a QR code.

For those of you who live in Canada, you’ll be happy to know that Cineplex Entertainment has recently launched their own UWP app. You can toggle between English and French in the interface, and cinephiles will be greeted by a simple UI and all the features you may need, from quick access to showtime information for Cineplex theaters, to buying tickets, finding the closest theater, as well as collecting SCENE points towards free movies and discounted snacks.

Fresh and promising

One of the apps that caught our attention this week is ‘Planner 5D’, which is an easy-to-use tool for amateur interior designers, currently used by 3.5 million people. The app was previously available for iOS, Android, and the web – until it landed in the Windows Store as a true UWP app earlier this month.

To get started, you can start from scratch or play with one of the four demo templates, and you have the option to edit in 2D or 3D, using 150 furniture and décor items (free version limitation) that you can arrange, resize, re-texture/ change color, etc.

The ‘Planner 5D’ app features a simple UI that aligns with the Windows 10 design guidelines, and one thing we’d love to see in a future version is the radial contextual menu that is present in the web version when you click/tap on an item – however this isn’t a big issue, as all the menu commands do appear on the app’s toolbar instead.

The app is ad-supported and has only 150 items available in the free version. If you want to, you can remove the ads and get access to a much larger catalog of items (over 3000 items) for just $9.99. Also note that the free app is a 316.5MB download, which doesn’t include the expanded catalog, so keep this in mind if you’re using cellular data, or happen to use a data-capped internet connection.

Another interesting app we noticed in the Windows Store is ‘Showbie’, an app that is marketed as the “the heart of your paperless classroom”. It offers teachers the ability to simplify the process of managing assignments, distributing learning materials, giving feedback to students, and sharing their work, activity details, and results with their parents.

So the Showbie app for Windows 10 has the basics covered, but if the developers bring it to feature parity with the iOS version, it will become an even more valuable tool for educators, as Windows tablets can be found at much lower price points than an iPad – lowering the bar of entry to the paperless classroom for schools in the developing world.

The Showbie app is free for basic use and has a size limitation of 25MB for documents and 1 minute for audio/video recordings, but there is a 10/month tier (billed annually) that lifts those limits to 500MB per file, 30 minutes for videos and 10 minutes for audio recordings. Also, if your school has more than 5 teachers, the makers of Showbie give you the ability to negotiate a volume discount.

Things to come

A Straw for Windows 10 app has made an appearance in the Windows Store, but don’t get too excited just yet. The app UI doesn’t support landscape view (as of the time of writing this article), despite being shown as only available for PCs.

At its recent F8 2016 conference, Facebook and Microsoft has announced UWP support for the React Native framework, offering developers more choice in their approach to building apps for Windows. This means that developers can use shared code and add a layer of unique features that take advantage of platform-specific APIs, making it faster and cheaper to develop for all major platforms.

Groove Music now has Insider rings just like Windows 10, but Microsoft announced a few days ago that this is not limited to its own apps, and developers can create package flights for their Windows 10 apps, too. This way, they can distribute updates to a limited test group running a specific version of Windows 10 (such as build 10586.63 or 14322) before they make it available to the general public – all without having to make a separate store page.

There is a catch, though: the “insider” app still has to undergo the Windows Store certification process, same as all normal apps. Still, this is a valuable tool for developers that don’t have many resources, and yet another reason to build apps for Windows 10.

Another important announcement this week was about Microsoft’s continued efforts to make Windows 10 better for education. The upcoming Windows 10 Anniversary Update will have several new features that make it easier and faster for teachers to set up and manage shared devices, among other things. This also includes a number of apps, as well “Minecraft Education Edition”, with an early access program slated for June.

Microsoft proudly touted the 5+ billion visits to the Windows Store at Build 2016, and while that number tells us little about the actual performance of the Windows app platform, it sure looks like Microsoft is slowly putting all the right ingredients together, such as offering developers the ability to easily convert Win32 apps to UWP which might as well be “the best thing to happen to Windows in 100 years”, as our own Vlad Dudau explained in his recent editorial.

Another sign of Microsoft’s strong Windows Store push is the addition of “Suggested Apps” in the Start Menu in Windows 10, and the efforts to create a truly unified store that also includes that brings Cortana and UWP apps to the Xbox One.

Furthermore, the Redmond giant has confirmed that a 64 bit version of Windows 10 Mobile is on the way, and MSDN documentation reveals that it is also ready for next generation of silicon that will come from Qualcomm, so even if Microsoft doesn’t build a Surface Phone very soon, any other OEM can - even one that you may not expect.

We'd like to know: Do you think Microsoft can make the Windows Store more attractive for developers? Be sure to let us know in the comments.

This isn't everything that happened in the world of tech this week, so if you're looking for the big picture, our 7 Days feature will paint it for you. There is also plenty of discussion brewing in the forums on a wide range of topics, so head over there and join the buzz.

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