The app also does a better job of explaining itself. Small dialog boxes let you know when music's been stored locally or in the cloud, while buttons at the top of the screen offer clear options for sorting your collection. As before, Xbox Music lets users stream millions of free songs on demand--up to 10 hours per month--and listen to their local music collection all in a single app.
Maps, News, Sports, Weather, Finance and Travel
Most of these Bing-powered apps have already received major updates, and they are largely unchanged in Windows 8.1. Maps has some minor cosmetic changes to the app menu. Sports, News, and Finance now have a search bar that appears in the top-right corner of the window. These apps didn't need major changes, so it's okay that they're left alone for now.
The one exception is Travel, which has yet to receive the same visual upgrade. The app puts certain features up-front, including hotel search and flight tracking, and it fits more information on the screen. Actual features appear to be unchanged in the new app.
Mail, Messaging, People, and Calendar
Microsoft made some big changes to these apps in March. While the company has promised further improvements in Windows 8.1, they're not part of the preview.
When it's time to venture beyond Microsoft's own apps, the Windows Store is now much more inviting in Windows 8.1. The layout is completely different, with a single carousel of featured apps on the left side of the screen, followed by several rows of suggestions. These tiles are less crowded than they were in Windows, and they each include a short written description, so it's easier to browse without jumping back and forth between pages.
Microsoft has also tweaked the categorization on the main page. Scrolling through, you'll see personalized recommendations, trending apps, new releases, and top charts. Categories have been moved to the app menu, so you'll have to swipe up or right-click to see them.
Individual app pages are getting a makeover in Windows 8.1 as well. Instead of having to click multiple tabs for app details and user reviews, everything is laid out on a single, scrollable page. That includes a new section of related apps and other apps by the same developer. Overall, the Windows Store feels less sparse and easier to browse than it did in Windows 8.
A much better app experience
Going through all the new apps and updates, you gain an appreciation of just how broken the modern-style app situation was in Windows 8, and how much Microsoft had to do to fix it. Before, apps like Internet Explorer and SkyDrive were no match for their desktop counterparts, and key functions like a calculator and photo editor were missing entirely. Windows 8.1 has lots of other changes, especially for desktop diehards, but the improvements to the apps alone should help make Microsoft's platform a lot more hospitable for touchscreen PCs.
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