SAN FRANCISCO (Circa) - The laptop is changing. Or at least Apple, Microsoft and Google are trying to change it.
Now that the smartphone is the most abundant type of computer in the world, the idea all the big laptop makers have come up with is to bring over the same kind of apps that you find on those smaller screens. The dream, at least in part, is an easier, more unified experience across the different devices you use in your daily life. But the reality so far has been, well let’s take a look.
First, one of the conveniences of app stores on laptops is supposed to be that you don’t have to run all over the internet to use the services you love or watch the latest episode of that show you’re in the middle of binge-watching. But what you quickly realize is that, unlike your phone’s app store, which has millions of apps available to it, there aren’t nearly as many useful apps available on the most popular laptop operating systems yet.
The Microsoft Store, on Surface and other Windows 10 computers, was last reported to have about 700,000 apps. And Apple’s Mac App Store has nearly 30,000.
Luckily, Google recently made a move to bring its Play Store, the same one found on Android phones, to its the up-and-coming Chromebook laptops it provides software for, which means access to the same roughly three million apps you can get on one of those devices. And even though you wouldn't think that an app store need that entire three-million-app bounty to satisfy the average customer, I found that both Microsoft and Apple's offerings – a quarter of a million apps between them – lacked some of the essentials I use on my phone for things like watching TV and listening to music.
And of course, all of this comparison shopping between the three laptop app ecosystems halts altogether when you realize that robust, complicated programs that do things like edit video are still a ways away from getting the snappy app treatment.
But, there's more to consider beyond sheer number of apps on a laptop's platform, because of the many you can load on a Chromebook today, not all are optimized for the big screen yet. And even ones that look good on a Pixelbook (made by Google) don't look nearly as so on a Chromebook Pro (made by Samsung with software by Google). Microsoft’s Store for laptops has been around a bit longer, with plenty of its smaller selection of apps crafted specifically for touch-screen on a 12- to 15-inch display. And further along in the discussion of usability (or non-usability) we get to the majority of Apple's apps for Mac, which, because Apple hasn't put a touchscreen on its computers yet, seem more like straight copies of what you get by visiting a website – making them only useful in t you can open them from the Launchpad.
Interestingly, smartphone apps research from comScore shows that, even though mobile web browsing pales in comparison to app usage at large, people aren’t necessarily downloading new apps regularly, like at all, which means laptop makers probably should pay attention to quality as much as quantity if they want apps to catch on on the big screen.
So, right this moment, the state of the appification of the laptop is nowhere near complete, but, things should get better. Google seems to be just getting started and already has a jump on number of apps, while Microsoft hasn’t shown signs of giving up on adding more apps. Apple, with the news that it’s going to soon give developers an easy way to bring iPhone apps right to Mac will surely give its laptop app platform a boost, even if it never brings touchscreens to MacBooks.
For now, though, most of us are still going to be stuck hitting the web browser on our laptops to enjoy content or get things done, or even, whenever possible, just sticking to our actual favorite computer: our smartphone.