This week's interview features Dave McCanless (Designer) and Roger Peters (Director of Technology) from IQ Agency, who are the developing power behind the recently released official Pikchur app (not to mention a concept for Tesco). Dave and Roger walk us through the development process on Windows Phone, how IQ is using the mobile platform for establishing brand awareness and what they think of WP7's future in this competitive market.
We first hooked up with IQ when their live tile categorisation idea broke into the WP7 community.
Head on past the break to read the interview.
Tell us about yourselves and how IQ is involved with brand development on the mobile platform
Thanks for asking us to talk about what we’ve been up to down here in Atlanta!
Bit of a leading question but Yes, I came to IQ from NYC having previously worked for the corporate identity behemoths Pentagram and Seigel+Gale and have sort of carved a niche for myself in the mobile world. I find it to be a meeting place between web and identity design. Just like a logo, mobile devices pose the unique challenge of telling a really complex and compelling story in a small amount of screen real estate. You don’t have the benefit of long copy explanations and flashy modules, you have to boil the ideas down to their simplest truth and present it as elegantly as possible.
As a designer, I am responsible for the overall look and feel of the app. I figured you would ask some technical questions that I probably don’t have answers so I’ve asked my buddy and colleague Roger Peters, IQ’s director of technology, silverlight MVP and all around WP7 expert to chime in.
IQ has finished its WP7 app Pikchur. Care to walk us through development and whether you encountered any problems?
Development of Pikchur was relatively straight forward since it is IQ's 3rd app, and my 9th or 10th. We've learned to always start with building out the navigational flows to ensure that the back button always works as expected – this is especially important with interstitial pages like login pages or sign up pages. The only significant issues we ran into were relative to Facebook integration. While there are Facebook WP7 libraries, the story there still isn't great, and Facebook managed to break their mobile OAuth authentication just a week after release. This project was unique in that we were handed an existing codebase, which we integrated into our final solution – it actually worked out pretty well.
This was a really fun challenge from a design standpoint in that we developed their brand essentially from the ground up. We created a system of proprietary icons and colors and illustrations to subtly hint at their cloud based photo sharing services.
How is the development process on WP7?
Developing for WP7 is it’s strong-suit. We can develop a prototype or a fully working app for WP7 so much faster than iOS or Android. There are some things which are tricky like tombstoning, navigational flows, and quirks with databinding when tombstoning occurs – but those are easy to look past when you see how much more efficient you can be in the rest of your development.
I agree, having the ability, as a designer to jump into Blend and tweak line spacing and layout and then instantly side load it on a phone make my job infinitely easier. Also when presenting design directions to a client, having the ability to screen share and show motion on the emulator vs. flat Photoshop files is not only impressive but helpful in discovering potential issues sooner than later.
Has the agency developed for other platforms and if so how does their development process compare?
We have done both iPhone and Android work at IQ. We typically work with partners to do the iOS development, as those skills aren't something we are able to use elsewhere. Our devs have really enjoyed both Android and WP7 development. Android seems to have a benefit of more access to phone abilities at the cost of needing more low-level plumbing that you might not have to do for WP7 – but it seems like a reasonable trade off for now. My guess is that Android will take a few large leaps forward relative to development in the coming years to try and compete better with MSFT's offerings.
What do you think of Microsoft's platform (from a user perspective), and how do you compare it to competitors?
I have to admit that while I was an early adopter of WP7, and I've written almost a dozen apps for it, as a consumer I have come to the opinion that the minimalistic style is just not working for me. I still use a WP7 device as of today, but I am considering moving over to Android.
While branded experiences look nice on the phone, the default screens of black/white just aren't engaging enough to make me happy. I look at WP7 kind of like the Xbox 1 – just a step in the right direction. I'm hopeful that much like the 360, Windows Phone will get a significant visual style update in the coming years via an update.
I have to say that at first I was enthralled with the novelty of a phone that embraced typography and design, but I’m finding the METRO system more and more restrictive. I think by creating a very reductive system in an attempt to keep UX consistent and app quality high they ensnared themselves in their own net and the “fart apps” managed to squeak on through anyways.
I switch back and forth between iOS and WP7 and find myself missing the stimulation I get from the wildly differing UI and visuals I experience when I use apps on iPhone.
What other WP7 projects is IQ working on or planning to start?
We have had talks with a several different brands and are excited about apps we are currently working on, but we can't talk about anything unreleased yet.
That said, Roger and I have been working on some really exciting apps outside of the office. Roger’s pet project, Imagewind, gained a lot of attention (featured on engadget) when it was pulled from the marketplace earlier in the spring.
Our idea for livetile categories earned us upwards of 10,000 hits on the IQ blog as well as numerous copycat web apps… (isn’t that how we met?)
I’m currently working on a game that will hopefully turn some heads when it comes out in a few weeks. I’ve spent a lot of time developing the story and illustrations (scale dioramas!!!) and Roger will be masterfully hooking up the backend for me.
Heading into your pockets, what smartphones do you all use?
Windows Phone, considering Android next
I switch, daily, from WP7 to iOS
How do you feel about the overall quality of apps in the Marketplace?
Improving, Plants vs Zombies and other XNA games are on point – think Silverlight based apps are still suffering – looking forward to Mango to see how it helps in performance.
There are a lot of great apps that really push the METRO styling and a lot more that seem to have used it as a crutch. I tweeted earlier this week to much fanfare that I had switched over to twitter mobile web because the native app is such Garbage.
What advice would you give to aspiring WP7 developers?
Focus on learning C#, XAML (WPF/Silverlight), and asynchronous .Net – don't feel like you have to only look at Windows Phone related articles/books – WP7 is based on a ton of awesome dev history which you can learn from.
Don’t rush to market! Focus on the quality… you only have one chance to make a first impression and if you don’t nail it out of the gate your reputation is set.
Thank you for your time. Any closing words about WP7's future?
Xbox vs Xbox 360 parallels – next version will be even better, good to get in early, but still waiting for the platform to prove itself, which is a slow and steady process.
I really hope that wp7 will continue to grow and in that we will see more time and attention and money invested to create quality apps that make good on the delightful experience promise.
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Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.