With the launch of Windows Phone OS 8 and recent announcements at Build 2012, mobile app makers have many more choices for development on phones and tablets.
For those of us with several Android and iOS apps under our belts, the Windows Phone development world may seem quite different. Yet it can offer opportunities both in terms of market and in design and development.
If you are used to the many variants of Android OS, and the frequency of updates, Windows Phone can seem refreshingly simple. Your QA teams and designers will have fewer form factors to deal with and a smaller range of hardware configurations. Your app will have more of a chance of getting spotted in the marketplace.
There is a very clear and strong visual style for Windows Phone. Formerly known as Metro, this design language has its origins in the Zune HD music player (one of which I own and treasure), and more importantly in the world of typography, print, and transport signs.
When we first came to the new design language, we had to learn that writing a Windows Phone app did not have to mean a sparse, monochrome UI. Rather, we discovered that intelligent use of colour and visuals could give each app a unique look and feel while still making it behave like it belonged on Windows Phone and was a cohesive part of the phone. We believe that, regardless of platform, we should never be asking the user to learn new habits, new gestures and interaction modes. With a toolbox of common controls, idioms and manipulations we were able to focus on creating fun and useful things for the user to do, rather than reinventing the basics of the UI. The Windows Phone design language is more of a helpful guide and an inspiration rather than a set of restrictions.
In the last few years, we have ported quite a few apps from Android and iOS to Windows Phone. In each case we’ve had to understand the core of the app, the brand identity, and then translate those elements and the experience into something that works on Windows Phone. It is this concept of translation that we stress for every project that comes from iOS or Android. For each new app, we first seek to understand what it should excel at (for example, “my app is best at helping the user find a cheap, good quality hotel with reliable reviews”). Then we identify the end user (e.g. international business travellers, or young people on a budget); as with the written word, written software has to be ‘spun’ for a specific audience. Once these steps are complete we then identify the most important scenarios it should enable (e.g. “showing nearby hotels with vacancies”) and, ultimately, a list of specific features. With this clear path to a feature-set, we can use the unique capabilities of Windows Phone to see how we can support the mission statement of the app. For example, can live tiles let the user know there is a schedule change on his or her intended train journey? Can we surface a status icon to the lock screen, or allow our app to become a source of dynamic wallpapers? How can we use secondary tiles to enable faster access to common tasks or preferred bits of information?
Regardless of the app at hand, we love being able to spot where unique Windows Phone features can improve the experience. This makes a better app, one that a user will keep returning to and rate highly.
We are excited that Windows Phone is getting lots of attention and look forward to seeing many new ideas brought to life on these cutting-edge phones. If this is your first venture into Windows Phone, then good luck – there is plenty of opportunity to shine.
We have some case studies that can be useful real-world examples of this translation process:
WeeMee is a fun avatar-creation app we translated to Windows Phone from iOS and Android
Composite started out life on iOS before we took it to Windows Phone and Windows 8.
Zombies, Run! is a fitness app / narrative game and was a high-profile Kickstarter-funded iPhone app before we made a Windows Phone version.
This Matchbox article is also published on Alphalabs