A majority of consumer and small business Windows 8 PC users launch fewer than one "Modern" app a day, signaling that they're spending most of their time on the classic Windows 7-style desktop, according to data released Wednesday.
According to Soluto, an Israeli PC management service provider, just 39% of owners of desktop PCs powered by Windows 8 launch a Modern user interface (UI) app more than once a day. Laptop users fire up a Modern, ne "Metro," app slightly more often, with 40% opening an average of more than one app daily. Even touch-enabled notebooks infrequently access Modern: 42% of the owners of those devices launch more than one app a day.
Only tablets tilt toward app use, said Soluto. Approximately 56% of Windows 8 tablet users open an average of one or more apps daily.
Soluto calculated the app launch rates using a pool of about 10,800 Windows 8 devices -- PC desktops and notebooks, touch-ready laptops and tablets -- that use its management service. Soluto pitches that service to consumers, small- and medium-sized businesses, and IT managers in larger companies, but the polled systems were predominantly consumer-owned and in small businesses, said Roee Adler, Soluto's chief product officer, in an interview Thursday.
"[The 10,800 PCs] do not include any enterprise systems, but very significant amounts of consumer and small business PCs," said Adler.
The numbers for traditional PCs, especially touch-enabled notebooks, must give Microsoft's Windows executives heartburn: They have repeatedly pinned hopes for a boost to PC sales on touch, blamed the paucity of touch laptops for the sluggish launch of the OS last year, and pointed to later this year -- when more touch-screen PCs will be available, and at lower prices -- as reason for optimism.
On average, a Windows 8 user launches 1.5 apps each day, for a week's total of 10.5 apps, said Soluto. Not surprising, tablet owners open an above-average number: 2.7 apps daily or about 19 apps each week. And just as expected, desktop, laptop and touch-laptop owners launch fewer apps on average. Those with desktop Windows 8 PCs open an average of 1.4 apps each day (9.9 apps each week), people with non-touch notebooks launch 1.5 apps daily (10.5 apps weekly), and owners of touch-enabled laptops open 2.2 apps each day (15.5 apps over seven days).
"The basic behavior is to just jump to the desktop," said Adler. "People don't find Metro intuitive."
That's been the dig against Windows 8 from the start. Even before Microsoft officially released the upgrade last October, critics slammed Windows 8's radical move to a touch-first interface. PC shipments have contracted for four straight quarters, most recently by a historic 14% in the first quarter of 2013, and some have blamed Windows 8 for contributing to that decline.
Soluto's data doesn't measure actual app usage -- as in, for instance, the percentage of time during the day that the user works with a Modern app -- but only the number of times it's launched. Windows 8 users can, of course, open an app once, then leave that app open throughout the day, returning to it several times to, for example, check email.
Coincidentally, the most widely-tried app, launched at least once by 86% of the Windows 8 PCs and tablets, was Microsoft's own Mail, Calendar and People app, which blends email and scheduling with a contact list. It was also the most-often-launched app: The users who did open the app at least once launched it an average of 4.4 times each week, or almost once per weekday.
From there, app popularity fell dramatically. Windows Photos, the second-most-tried app, was opened at least once by 44% of the PC pool. And the second-most-launched app was Solitaire, which was opened 2.1 times per week, on average, by those people who had run it one or more times.
The low app engagement portrayed by Soluto matches criticism not just of the Modern UI, but also of the Windows Store, Microsoft's app store and the sole distribution channel for Windows 8 apps. Beyond the raw app count -- Microsoft recently claimed that the store stocked 70,000 apps -- some have argued that its virtual shelves have not been fleshed out with the must-have apps that rival ecosystems, Google's Android and Apple's iOS, sport.
Microsoft may be looking at its own app engagement data and seeing results similar to Soluto's: The company has promised that Windows 8.1, the free update slated to ship later this year and preview in five weeks, will be its response to customer feedback. Microsoft can track a wealth of Windows usage data through its opt-in telemetry program.
Among the reported changes due in Windows 8.1 will be the restoration of the iconic Start button to the traditional desktop, and an expansion of system settings available via the Modern UI.
Soluto has published more about its app launching study on its website.