You've read the blog posts, watched the "Surface" commercials, and heard that developing an app for Windows 8 is an interesting opportunity. (There's a huge market! After all, it's the No. 1 operating system in the world.) So what steps should you take to "get to know" this new platform and build an app?
We've been playing with, designing, and developing apps for this platform for more than a year now, and nearly every client we've spoken to about Windows 8 is interested, but they find it challenging to understand the new platform and what it can do. We had to help them quickly learn the operating system, and the following are the steps we recommend to make that happen.
Play with a Windows 8 tablet or a Windows 8 PC
There's simply no better way to learn than to dive in. If you have a Windows 7 PC, you can upgrade it to Windows 8 (part of the "built-in" market). However, we think it's important to experience the "touch-first" user interface as well as a mouse and keyboard. Therefore, we suggest that you go purchase a Surface or other touch-screen-enabled Windows 8 PC (or camp out at your favorite PC store for a few hours). There is so much to learn from simply using a Windows 8 tablet or PC. Swipe across the screen to view the start screen tiles, and notice how everything in Windows 8 is "page-less" -- it's one big panorama.
Your first recommended stop is the Windows Store. Just touch the green Store tile, and you're in. As you might expect, the apps are grouped into categories with featured apps highlighted within each group (your goal is to land here). These featured apps change regularly and tend to be apps that offer great content and great experiences. Windows 8 has integrated search, so swipe from the edge to open the "charm" bar (this gesture is so simple that it'll be ingrained into memory and become an intuitive gesture when using Windows 8 apps), and select the search charm. From here you will be able to search all of the apps within the store. We recommend checking out the following to get a good sense of apps for Windows 8: Naturespace, iCookbook, Conde Nast, AllRecipes, and Parents Magazine.
It's normal to be afraid of change -- every time Facebook changes its interface, large amounts of people complain before they have even tried it. But after a few weeks, they get used to the new interface, and you don't hear anything from them anymore. We have found this to be true for Windows 8 as well. The interface is fundamentally different from iPad and Android tablets, and it takes time to get used to. The funny thing is that once you get used to it, you'll catch yourself swiping from the edges on an iPad or reaching out to touch other computer screens.
Learn Windows Store app design principles
Now that you are familiar with panoramic pages and swiping through them, you might have also learned that there are actions found in the bottom app bar (unique to each app) and that share and search are located in the charm at the right edge. That's a good start, but to make sure your app achieves a great Windows 8 experience, we think you should learn these three core design disciplines.
Content before chrome
The current interface on iPads and Android tablets are a mixture of chrome (buttons, tab bars, status bars, etc.) and content. On Windows 8, this is fundamentally different. Your content should be emphasized, while buttons and navigation should be tucked away in the bottom or top app bar. There might be fear that the user won't find those controls, but we find that after some time with the platform, everyone gets used to these controls.
Fast and fluid
"Fast and fluid" means various things. From a technical perspective, it means that you should reduce the waiting time when performing actions (like opening a detail page) by using asynchronous loading in a smart way. From a user experience perspective, this means showing a lot of content up front and allowing the user to scroll through long pages without having to wait and load new pieces content. You should get used to the concept of long panoramic pages. It's much easier for you to scroll and scan than to decide between sections.
The best way to understand this concept is to play with the calendar apps on both the iPad and the one that comes with Windows 8. Notice the textures and real-life metaphors (also known as skeuomorphism) that identify iPad apps and the lack of real-life metaphors in the Windows 8 calendar. Instead you will see how content is large and upfront accompanied by large, crisp fonts. You will see that designing for Windows 8 is different than designing for iPad. It requires a new design effort, but the results can be very compelling.