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Lenovo's Pokki deal targets Windows 8 app-athy

Windows 8 sales may not be what many manufacturers were hoping for, but Lenovo's agreement to ship the Pokki suite on all PCs means it's not letting go of the OS without a fight.

Seth Rosenblatt Former Senior Writer / News
Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
Seth Rosenblatt
3 min read
Pokki's desktop mode Start menu that will be shipping on most Lenovo computers can also launch programs. Pokki

Lenovo and Pokki announced on Thursday a deal to preload most of Lenovo's Windows 8 computers with Pokki's desktop mode Start menu, app launcher, and Windows store.

The Pokki suite will ship globally on nearly all new Lenovo computers. The first models to receive the Pokki suite will be the IdeaPad and IdeaCenter, followed by the Think line, said Darrius Thompson, CEO and co-founder of SweetLabs, which makes Pokki.

"We want to build the largest distribution network for developers," he said. "Our potential to create a large channel for developers is substantial."

His co-founder at SweetLabs, Chester Ng, said that Pokki fixes three major major flaws in Windows 8. It creates a Start menu where there had been the user expectation of one, but none existed. Pokki also creates a good app store, where desktop apps can be downloaded and installed in most cases with one click.

The most unusual thing it does is that gives manufacturers the opportunity to update what he called the "software bundle" -- more commonly known as bloatware -- because Pokki can be used to recommend software.

"Pokki can promote TurboTax during tax season, as opposed to pre-loading it," he said, giving one example of how Pokki can obviate the need for bloatware, which drives much of the manufacturers' profit margins.

The idea of buying an off-the-shelf computer that contains little to no bloatware, except for the Pokki app store, is practically unheard of. It won't happen yet, either.

It's Thompson and Ng's hope that a reduced-bloatware future is coming. "We want to reinvent the software bundle that they make a lot of money off of, a significant amount of their margins off of it," Ng said.

Pokki follows what Thompson described as the iTunes model. Instead of starting off as an "app player" and then taking years to become a place where people can buy apps, Pokki already provides both.

"We can help OEMs monetize users because of our ability to provide targeted dynamic recommendations," Thompson said. Those recommendations, of which Pokki has already made more than 1 billion this year, could be eventually more profitable than the current bloatware system.

Pokki's Windows app store creates a new way to install old and new Windows apps. Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

Thompson and Ng wouldn't reveal active user numbers for Pokki, but they did say that the suites rising popularity has driven both user adoption and the attention of hardware manufacturers. They have had 20 million downloads in the less than one year that Windows 8 has been on the market.

"On average," Ng said, "a Windows 8 user opens this thing 10 times a day."

Pokki's developer services are robust. In addition to providing a distribution point for Windows software, it also gives developers the kind of in-depth analytics tools that exist on mobile operating systems, but have been lacking thus far on Windows.

Ng described the analytics tools as the kind of usage data that you'd expect Windows to have, but doesn't, such as "number of downloads, engagement [in different part of the app], and time spent in app," he said.

Lenovo, the number one PC manufacturer in the world, might be a major coup for SweetLabs, but the company isn't resting on its laurels. "Later this year, you'll see us help developers on other non-PC platforms," said Ng, which could mean that an Android version of Pokki is in the offing.

Pokki may or may not help boost Lenovo's profits on Windows 8 computers, but the move definitely helps raise Pokki's profile.