Pokki exits beta, picks up 1M users, and sets out to prove that desktop apps can be cool, too

Has Microsoft, in focusing its attention on touchscreen devices, forgotten about the people who sit in front of computers all day long? That’s the contention of SweetLabs cofounder Chester Ng. He believes the software titan has left the door open for his product, Pokki, which today makes it formal debut.

Pokki is the 14-month-old application store for Windows — and eventually Mac — with a platform intended to modernize the PC. The product is run by four-year-old SweetLabs, which operates out of a hip office in downtown San Diego.

Thursday, Pokki exits a lengthy beta period with 1 million monthly active users and a shiny new release that provides PC users with an even more alluring desktop application experience.

“There is no reason why apps, an app interface, and an app store on a PC shouldn’t be just as fun, convenient, and elegant as what users have become accustomed to on smartphones and tablets,” Ng told me. “The bar has been raised, thanks to iOS and Android, and it’s time for the PC to catch up. And Windows 8’s tablet interface forced on desktop users just ain’t going to cut it.”

The new version of Pokki includes a remodeled menu for faster access to apps, easier app discovery, and improved organization. Also new is a notification center that highlights real-time updates for installed applications —  think Gmail messages, Twitter mentions, or Facebook “likes”. In addition, Pokki added Angry Birds, Pandora, and Pinterest applications to its collection.

Pokki’s store may be small with just hundreds of apps, and its one million members may pale by comparison to Microsoft’s audience, but for Ng and co., Pokki is an opportunity to prove that Microsoft’s shift to tablet-driven innovation is premature.

Ng believes that Windows 8 leaves behind the software maker’s more than 1.3 billion PC friends as it pushes ahead to new domains. It’s a viewpoint shared by others.

VentureBeat reporter Sean Ludwig called Windows 8 terrible for desktops; he identified eight major desktop issues with the operating system. In his review of the OS, Ludwig concluded that Windows 8 favors tablets, touchscreens, and laptops with touchpads.

“[Windows 8] works very well for these kinds of computers,” he said. “Traditional desktops with a keyboard and mouse, on the other hand, have been left in the dust.”

Ng, however, embraces the keyboard and the mouse; he challenges the notion that PCs need to evolve to be more like touchscreen devices. His hope is that Pokki wins over the nine-to-fivers and the all-day computing types who want elegant and sophisticated applications that are tailored to fit their desktops, not their mobile devices.

Pokki’s message is loud and clear: Your PC doesn’t have to suck. But are enough people paying attention? Maybe. Those that are taking note are liking what they find. Between 15 precent to 20 percent of active users of the top Pokki apps return on a daily basis, Ng said. Most popular are the Instagram app Instagrille, Tweeki for Twitter, and the Gmail Pokki.

SweetLabs has a staff of more than 70 employees. The San Diego-based company is backed by Bessemer Venture Partners, Google Ventures, Intel Capital, and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures. It raised $13 million last September to finance Pokki’s development.

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