Zune HD is a touch-screen digital media player from Microsoft that features an OLED display for crisp video, HD radio and wireless sync capabilities. As the creator of Zune’s official Facebook and Twitter applications, Matchbox Mobile was the natural choice when Microsoft decided to develop an email client for Zune HD.
“What was originally conceived primarily as a media consumption device has, in response to our customers, evolved into something far bigger,” explains Dave McLauchlan, Senior Business Development Manager, Microsoft Zune. Unlike traditional mobile device application development, creating software for Zune HD is significantly more complex. The email client, with its lists, pages and user controls, had to be built using Zune’s XNA SDK – which is designed for making games rather than standard applications.
The XNA platform differs considerably from event-based app platforms like Silverlight: XNA games are constructed as continuous loops that run 60 times a second. There are no standard controls – such as lists, buttons or text entry fields – which could be dragged onto a form designer. Instead there is a blank canvas and everything must be created from scratch. For a UI-intensive app like an email client, with its many complex lists and structured views on data, this presents an obvious challenge. Further limitations existed in the storage required for the ActiveSync Over The Air specifications needed for an email client.
Matchbox discovered that only a limited HTTP and HTTPS programming interface was available, yet the email client needed to support not only Microsoft Hotmail, but also Exchange and Gmail. At a minimum, users needed to be able to read and respond to their email on the device for all these services.
Matchbox approached the design challenge by referencing the Windows Phone 7 user interface, and mapped this back to the Zune HD version of Metro (which was itself the precursor of Windows Phone’s design language). By doing so, we were able to develop the email client in just four months, including 6 weeks of preliminary beta testing, before the application was launched in March, 2011.
The project was kept on track with weekly update reports to Microsoft, along with regular team conference calls. Matchbox’s interactive development process harnessed feedback from Microsoft and integrated this real-time into the ongoing development. Microsoft was also given access to Matchbox’s online bug tracking system, from where any required actions were triaged by the team in Matchbox’s daily scrum meetings.
“This was a unique development challenge,” said Dave McLauchlan, Senior Business Development Manager Microsoft Zune. “We knew we needed an expert team whose experience and technical abilities were world class, if we were to succeed in giving Zune HD users email functionality. Matchbox’s past development efforts for Zune HD and Windows Phone indicated that they were the right team for the job, and the resulting application proved that we made the right choice in asking them to deliver what was an extremely complex project.”