An Interview With the Pokki Developers

An “app store,” the first and eponymous one being introduced by Apple for the iPhone, makes discovering, installing, and updating applications easy for casual and advanced users. Microsoft has tried to emulate Apple with its own Windows Phone Store, but the desktop personal computer has been left out (game services such as Desura or Valve’s Steam, notwithstanding). A company called Sweetlabs is changing this with Pokki.

I interviewed Adrian Bourke, VP of Product and co-founder of Sweetlabs, about Pokki.


Who is responsible for Pokki?

A crazy startup in sunny San Diego who uniquely obsesses with making the PC experience better, SweetLabs. We were founded by six guys that came out of DivX in 2008 and now have roughly 60 employees working on our various product and business lines, including Pokki. While most of the other startups are exclusively focused on mobile, we feel the enormous PC ecosystem has been left in the stone ages and see problems we can help solve for the thousands of developers and more than a billion consumers on the PC.

What itch were you trying to scratch that led you to write Pokki?

We love the PC and the itch that flared up for us was witnessing recent mobile and web-driven innovations leave the PC in the dust, trying to catch up and stay relevant. All the while, billions of users sit in front of a PC all day long and will continue to for the foreseeable future. Two significant trends have emerged over the past decade that required the PC industry to react in order to maintain relevance (and survival, for that matter):

  1. Thanks to ever increasing connectivity (coverage and bandwidth), there was a shift from client-side only software and data architecture to client-server software and data architecture. The PC’s conduit here wasn’t the operating system — it was the web browser and the web developers that become web app developers.
  2. The emergence of mobile-centric computing devices (smartphones and tablets) into the mainstream computer ecosystem. The PC is no longer the only device a consumer owns — for many it’s now one of many.

Over the past decade the PC has lacked both operating system software and device hardware innovation, with neither recognizing and embracing these trends that ultimately influence user behavior on the PC. For example, the PC’s interface has largely been based on the desktop metaphor, where web apps are considered second class citizens and relegated to the browser — regardless of the massive amount of time people spend using them. Of course, the jury is still out on whether PC users embrace a touch metaphor (Windows 8 Modern UI formerly known as Metro) on point/click/type PCs. 3 years ago we knew we couldn’t do anything about the hardware or operating system (yet 😉 ), but we certainly could take a run at building the modern application system for the PC and growing a rich developer community. That is why we started building Pokki.

What problem does Pokki solve that other programs don’t solve or don’t solve satisfactorily?

It sounds audacious, and you may call us crazy, but we strive to solve all the core application problems users and developers have faced on Windows over the past decade.

For example, PC app access and discovery for users. Think about how easy and delightful it is to discover apps, download and install them, and access them with a single click on your smartphone. Then compare that to how users walk through a dozen steps to discover, download, install, and access a traditional desktop app. Pokki aims to the convenience of mobile apps to the desktop, in a way that feels natural and native to a PC user.

Another example is PC app creation and development for developers. With Pokki, it’s easier than ever to create a desktop app — all you need to know is standard web languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) and Pokki takes care of the rest. No more wrestling with various runtime libraries, building installers, making sure your app works on Windows XP (and soon Mac), and a developer can focus on their passion — creating an awesome app.

How did you attract the first batch of developers to submit programs for Pokki?

The first developer app was submitted on the same day we launched. There appeared to be some pent-up demand from web developers to join the “app party” by building apps using standard web languages like HTML, CSS, JavaScript. The first large batch of developers was seen when we announced the Pokki Challenge — a developer contest to build the best desktop app. It’s worth noting that one of the winners was Denis Denisyuk with Instagrille, the most popular Instagram app for the PC.

What was the most unexpected thing about developing Pokki?

We believed that web technologies (i.e. HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) could be used to develop apps that not only match, but in many ways better what is possible with native desktop software. What we didn’t expect was that the same web technologies could be used for operating system interfaces to create more complex tools and services, such as the Windows 8 Start Menu replacement, notification system, and even a window manager.

What was the hardest technical problem in developing Pokki?

Even with the foundation of Chromium, building an HTML, CSS, and JavaScript application platform that is compatible with all major versions of Windows and Mac is far beyond our initial estimates. Chromium is a great browser, however it lacks the required operating system’s integration, application framework, packaging, delivery and auto-updating service.

What was the hardest social problem in developing Pokki?

For a platform to be successful, it needs content to attract users, and it needs users in order to attract developers to build apps. Classic “chicken and egg” problem. Of course we can’t reveal all of our secrets 😉 but we think we’ve found some ways to solve this as evidenced by the millions of monthly active Pokki users but we certainly have a long ways to go.