This past week, Microsoft brought some of its top-notch Bing apps for Windows 8/RT to Windows Phone 8, providing users of that smart phone platform with some of their best mobile apps yet. All Windows Phone 8 users will want to download these apps immediately: They aren’t just incredibly useful and full-featured, they’re also dynamic advertisements for how good a properly designed Windows Phone app can be.
You may recall that Microsoft first shipped several Bing apps as part of Windows 8 and RT last October, including Finance, Maps, News, Search, Sports, Travel and Weather. And two more Bing apps, Bing Health and Fitness, and Bing Food and Drink, will ship as part of the Windows 8.1 update for Windows 8/RT later this month. Two of those apps—Bing Maps and Search—are already available on Windows Phone 8, so this initial delivery of content apps for Windows Phone 8—Finance, News, Sports and Weather—represents what we may consider the “key” Bing apps, though I hope and expect to see Bing Travel, Health and Fitness, and Food and Drink appear on Windows Phone 8 soon as well.
This is a great start. The key Bing content apps were already excellent on Windows 8/RT, and they’ve made the transition to Windows Phone very nicely. Indeed, these smart phone ports should serve notice to any developer that hopes to port similarly, in either direction, between the two platforms. The content is identical, the presentation is optimized for the form factors of the respective devices, and on Windows Phone these apps of course use Windows Phone “Metro” user interface conventions. I could not be happier with how they’ve turned out, aesthetically, and I have only one minor quibble from an efficiency standpoint: It would be nice if you could sign in with your Microsoft account and have settings (favorite cities in Weather or news sources and topics in News, for example) sync between Windows and Windows Phone.
No matter. These apps are excellent.
Visually, they are stunning and well done, and it’s interesting to see how the presentation between the platforms compares. The Windows 8 News app, for example, is geared towards the landscape display default on that platform and provides a panoramic experience that extends to the right of the main display. So when you load the app, you see a “hero” graphic for the top news story.
But the app of course extends far off to the right. As you scroll over, you see more sections and more stories, and if you were able to somehow see this crazy-wide display all at once, it may resemble the following.
On Windows Phone 8, the apps are of course oriented for the portrait display default of the phone. (Indeed, unlike with Windows 8/RT, you cannot rotate the phone and see any of these apps in landscape view.) So the News app on Windows Phone 8 presents the same “hero” graphic for the top news story, but it’s cropped for the portrait aspect ratio. And it uses Windows Phone 8 “Metro”-style hints that it’s a panoramic experience: The next section bleeds into the default display on the right, indicating that there is more to see.
Like the Windows 8/RT app, the Windows Phone 8 versions are panoramic experiences too. You can pan over to the right and see more, and if you were somehow able to see the entire display at once, it may resemble the following.
But the phone panorama is more mature and formalized than what’s available on Windows 8/RT, and it includes a few advantages over the Windows 8/RT version. First, there’s an always-visible app bar available in these apps, visually indicating where more options can be found. In Windows 8/RT, you have to be a mind reader to figure out how to find this stuff. The Windows Phone 8 panorama also flips around to the front when you reach the end: With the Windows 8/RT panorama apps, you can pan all the way to the right, but when you hit the end, you’ve hit the end. You can’t keep going. This also means that you can pan to the left with the Windows Phone 8 apps if you want, something that’s not possible with the Windows 8/RT apps.
The Bing Finance, News, Sports and Weather apps are of course good Windows Phone 8 citizens. They support all Windows Phone 8 screen resolutions natively, integrate with the platform’s Share functionality and provide live tiles, secondary tiles and notifications if you want them. In many cases you will: I’ve replaced the Weather Channel app’s Start screen tile with that of Bing Weather since it provides a much cleaner design. And I’ve removed all the news and sports apps I’d been using previously: Bing News and Sports are all I ever wanted in these categories.
It’s worth noting that all of these apps are sensitive to your needs. You can disable the location tracking, live tiles, and/or cellular data usage for each, for example.
From a content perspective, the Windows Phone 8 apps are basically identical to the corresponding Windows 8/RT apps, and one has to think that was the point. And because you typically have your phone with you at all times, this content is all the more valuable in Windows Phone 8 form.
Bing Finance provides an overview of the financial markets, stock watch tiles, and business and financial news. You can dive into stories by particular high-value sources—CNBC, Reuters, Bloomberg, many others—and access a nice collection of finance-related utilities such as rates, currencies, and currency conversion.
Bing News may be my favorite app in the group. It’s a great all-around and highly customizable news app with a ton of sources. The Headlines group is stocked with Top Stories, World, Technology and Science, Politics, Opinion, Business, Entertainment and Sports groups, and the sources list, like that in Finance, is full of high quality news organizations. You can pin news searches (like “Microsoft”) for topics that interest you, and there’s a nice selection of video news clips.
Bing Sports will help you stay up to date with the top sports news stories, of course, and it provides photo slideshows and videos. The big draw for this app, I think, is its ability to customize the sports and teams you care about most and then pin them to the Start screen for quick access.
Bing Weather of course auto-detects your current location and provides gorgeous Today, Daily, Hourly and Maps views. You can add to the Places list, which is like Favorites for weather. The most valuable feature of this app, perhaps, is that live tile.
You can’t go wrong with these apps, assuming of course you live in an area in which they’re supported. Enjoy!