Windows has apps and an app store. A lot of people may not realize that, but it's one of the big features that Windows 10 inherited from Windows 8. The apps in the store are lightweight, touch-friendly, and can run either full-screen or windowed. Updates are handled automatically, and you can install apps purchased on multiple devices.
Universal apps have some other benefits over traditional PC programs, too. They can interact with Windows's built-in notification and sharing features. They can display current info on live tiles in the Start menu—handy for things like weather, sports, and messaging. They're also vetted for security and quality, and run in their own sandboxes so as not to affect the rest of the operating system.
But the most appealing aspect of universal apps may be their ability to run on a wide variety of devices, from smartphones to tablets to laptops to powerful desktop PCs to game consoles and eventually the HoloLens 3D extended-reality headset. Let's not forget the enormous Surface Hub business conferencing unit, either.
Universal Windows apps mean you can acquire an app for all of these device types at once, from the same app store, called the Windows Store (where you also find games, music, movies, and TV shows). Universal apps make things easier for both the app developers and their consumers. Developers get to use about 80 percent of the same code regardless of the target platform, and users only have to acquire an app once for all their devices.
Of course, a full PC app differs from a phone app and an Xbox app, hence the 20-percent difference in code. The unification also means that a developer can target the entire audience of several device types with (mostly) the code of one app. I tested all the apps listed below on a Surface Pro 4$1,069.82 at Amazon running Windows 10 and a Lumia 950$598.99 at AT&T running Windows 10 Mobile.
More and more in-demand apps are making their way into the Windows Store, as you can see from group below. Some major apps aren't universal, however. For example, Instagram only runs on Mobile, and the Nook reading app only runs on PCs and tablets.
More existing apps are also being converted to Universal apps. For example, several of the top Windows apps, including Facebook, Pandora, and Microsoft's own OneDriveFree at Microsoft recently made the transition. I hope the trend continues. App providers that left the fold because they didn't want to spend the development effort to create apps for the small percentage of Windows Phone users may be more enticed by reaching a potential Windows 10 audience of more than 350 million.
The list below doesn't include PC games, of which there are plenty in the Windows Store. In fact, the store will be aligned with the Xbox Store. Games already in the Store range from casuals like Crossy Road and Cut the Rope to top-notch drivers like Asphalt and Forza, and shooters like Gears of War, Modern Combat, and Quantum Break. And of course, Minecraft$26.95 at Amazon is in there. I also left out apps that are bundled with Windows 10, such as OneNote, Skype, and Office Mobile. Groove Music, Outlook Mail and Calendar, Maps, and many more. To learn about some of the best third-party Universal Windows apps, read on.
Free, subscription fee for additional storage
Dropbox is probably less essential now that OneDrive is included with Windows and Windows Phone, but for users who've become accustomed to Dropbox, there's a universal app. This excellent cloud storage and syncing app not only lets you download files from your Dropbox, but also lets you view documents and photos. You can favorite items by tapping a star, and the app can act as an auto-uploader for any photos shot on the device on which it's installed.
This popular language-learning app (and PCMag's Editors' Choice for free language-learning software) is now available as a Windows Universal app. Get the same drills you've come to expect on your PC, with 16 languages to choose from for English speakers. You get the same fun progression through difficulty levels, starting by simply choosing the picture of the word in the other language and hearing it spoken, then you move on to typing translations and more. Setup is super simple, to boot.
The premier online auction house offers a simple Universal Windows app that does what you need it to. You can search for items with good filtering options, see items you're watching, sell items, all in a very clear, touchable interface. Of course, notifications about bidding activity in the Windows Action Center and sharing through the standard share panel are good reasons to use an app rather than the service's perfectly serviceable website.
Though I prefer Yelp overall, Foursquare has it beat in the Universal Windows app race. And Foursquare has a legion of devout users. The app doesn't even require an account, but if you do become a regular user, it can learn your tastes. You can save favorite places, leave tips about them, or just like or dislike them. The fun, large tile design is eminently touchable and swipe-able, and Bing Maps integration means you'll never have trouble finding your next palate-pleasing venue.
If you want all your messages on all your devices, no matter their operating system or size, it's hard to do better than Facebook Messenger; it boasts apps for iOS, Android, Web, and Windows. The Windows Universal app features easy navigation between your conversations, along with media options like photos, voice recording, and GIFs. As with many Universal apps, integrated notifications are a big plus when it comes to messaging. It still lacks a couple of features found in the Web client, including video and voice calling and pasting of images.
Free, with in-app purchases
This drawing app has long been one of the most impressive Windows modern apps. It supports five multitouch finger points and offers realistic paint, watercolor, and pencil textures for your digital drawing. Packs of line drawings and cartoons offer prefab starting points in case you're lacking inspiration. The Fun Pack is free, but the more artistic Variety Pack is a $1.49 in-app purchase, and the Adventure Pack, with its 24 character sketches and Friends Pack of mostly pets cost $1.99 each. Of course, you can just start finger or mouse painting on a blank page or a photo of your own, with a good variety of brush and pencil tips. You also get a choice of a dozen canvas and paper textures. Once you're done, you can export your masterpiece to a PNG file or easily send it to email and social networks. This is a highly polished app, with impressively real-looking paint.
Starts at $7.99 per month
The world's best-known streaming video service now has a Universal Windows app for phone, tablet, and PC. Watch House of Cards and the rest, no matter what screen you're near. This will be an even bigger deal when it's also aligned with the Xbox app. The app remembers what you last left off watching, shows your List of movies and TV shows, and accommodates multiple profiles. Search for titles or browse through many genres, including cult movies, documentaries, and sci-fi/fantasy. You can even enable or disable subtitles and audio.
Free, with in-app purchases
This app offers perhaps the most ways to dress up digital images. You can work on pictures from your camera roll or online accounts. It's a snap to add text, clipart, and endless effects to photos, or even start drawing from scratch. Collage creation is one of this app's strengths, too. You even get Photoshop-style selection, masking, and tone curve adjustments. And there are enough filters to put Instagram to shame. Noise reduction, blemish fixing, blur effects—it's the whole nine yards of digital photo manipulation.
Free; Pro version $19.99
Polarr is an impressive, Lightroom-style photography app. It offers raw camera file import, lots of lighting and color adjustments, and a clear, touch-friendly interface. It also boasts a wealth of effect filters, and, if you get the paid Pro version, you can even create your own. A Guide mode is a great helper for showing you how to improve your digital photos.
The Weather Channel
Windows's included Weather app is perfectly serviceable, but if you want more bells and whistles, The Weather Channel has you covered. Easily access multiple locations, see animated weather maps, read weather news, and watch weather videos. The app can even notify you about severe weather, rain, or breaking news. The app takes advantage of Cortana voice control, so you can say to your computer "Show me forecast videos" or "Show me weather at work."
The Twitter Universal app supports everything you expect in a mobile app for the microblogging service, including multiple accounts, lists, video, pictures (with people tagging), and location. You can save drafts, edit your profiles, and choose between light and dark themes. The app will of course generate notifications, and you can set it up to display new tweets on the lock screen and Start menu tile. Account switching is nice, too, because who has just one Twitter account?
Free, with in-app purchases
Another excellent service in the communications genre, Viber offers Skype-like video calling and calling to standard telephones, but, unlike Skype and Facebook Messenger, it requires a mobile phone number and the app installed on that phone in order to work. You can also view public chats manned by celebrities or interest groups. And as with Facebook Messenger, there's an extensive sticker market. Cool Windows 10 capability: the Viber app lets you reply to text messages right from the Action Center notification.
The open-source multi-format video player comes to the Windows Store! VLC instantly finds and can play just about any kind of video or music on you PC or Windows Mobile device. It's interface is simple and clear. Just don't expect all of the features of the traditional Windows VLC program, such as video effects and file conversion. It does let you add media folder locations, choose caption formats, and use hardware decoding, however. For music playback, VLC also offers 17 equalizer presets, from classical to techno.
Vast amounts of scientific knowledge is embodied in this app that's a must for students of not only mathematics, but also geology, astronomy, and biology. Compare areas, masses, and other dimensions using its massive store of data. There's even information on music, words, health, nutrition, and transportation. You'd be amazed at some of the statistics available in the app, including movie ticket receipts for box-office hits and the probability of hitting it rich with your Mega Millions ticket.
Free; Pro version $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year
Keep track of all those to-dos and tasks on every device you own. Wunderlist makes it incredibly easy to enter, complete, and prioritize items. You can customize the interface by switching among 16 background options. Smart Lists automatically show tasks due this week or today, or starred tasks. You can also add everything in Wunderlist to your calendar. Business users will want to subscribe to the Pro version, which adds collaboration features, for $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year.