For the Windows 8.1 Preview, Microsoft took a close look at its Windows Store and decided to give it a facelift and make a few changes to the way the operating system handles Store apps. Windows Store apps are now automatically updated in the background, for example, and the store features a new look that puts a strong emphasis on recommendations instead of the focus on categories in the last version.
Auto-updates are clearly the most important new feature of this release. As Microsoft noted during a press event ahead of today’s launch, this will give developers the assurance that most users will always run the latest version of their apps. Users can turn these automatic updates off, but there are no granular controls over which apps do or don’t update automatically.
With this update, Microsoft is also adding support for cash-based stored value (no need for Microsoft Points), app gifting, in-app purchases for consumables and a number of other features that will allow developers to more easily monetize their apps. Microsoft will also introduce cash-based Windows Store gift cards in 40 countries around the world.
The redesign isn’t just about the look of the Windows Store, Microsoft notes. It’s really a change in how Microsoft markets apps from its developers. The focus is now squarely on recommendations. When you open up the Windows Store in the Windows 8.1 Preview, the first thing you see is an editorial selection of some of the top new apps, but as you scroll to the right, you immediately see the new “picks for you” section that uses Bing’s ability to crunch lots of data to provide you with a personalized list of apps based on apps you use, other apps you have installed and a number of other factors.
The store also features a list of recently launched apps and apps that are currently popular with other users. The top level of the store, of course, still includes a list of top paid and free apps, as well.
The app description pages themselves also got a facelift. They still feature large screenshots of the app, but instead of hiding reviews, star ratings and other information behind tabs, the design of these pages is now flat and includes screenshots, ratings, top reviews, details about the app and a list of related apps, as well as apps by the same developer on one single side-scrolling page.
Microsoft says the old category view felt very static, but the company had decided that it wants to showcase the breadth of the developer ecosystem in the earlier store. Now that there are close to 100,000 apps in the catalog, that’s not necessary anymore, and the team decided to focus on recommendations and a more dynamic experience instead.