Every organization that is developing an app has hopes of becoming the next viral hit, but even great apps compete for attention amongst the distractions.
Moneythink, the established and growing financial literacy program for urban, low-income high school students, also had high expectations of adoption for its app. After completing the Moneythink Mobile pilot last spring, our organization, CauseLabs, reviewed the quantitative and qualitative results with Moneythink. Their initial response? Disappointment. But the CauseLabs team saw something different. We saw the pilot program as a success.
Analyzing the Right Results
It happens all the time. Organizations that are building apps for the first time set the bar too high. Having years of app development experience, CauseLabs knew better than to expect astronomical results and saw success where Moneythink did not.
Consider some of the challenges of mobile engagement: Mobile users are selective when downloading apps due to limited device space. Moreover, studies have shown that, no matter how many apps are installed on a device, users only open an average of 20-30 of them per month. Even useful apps fail to hit 100% engagement.
Take email as an example of a useful app. For some of us, checking email is a daily to-do and behavior that has caused mobile email clients to far surpass their desktop counterparts. Yet, despite prevalent email use, fewer than 20% of email client users were active in the last 12 months, according to an IT Business Net article from earlier this year. Gmail, topping the charts for email usage, showed that only 11% of users were active over a 90-day period.
We don't expect to put a number as low as 11% on reports when we set new app engagement goals, but perhaps it is more realistic. Active use of an app from any user group (outside of paid staff) indicates that it offers something of value. When evaluating our work at CauseLabs, we look through the lens of the 1% difference. Not everything we build will be the next overnight hit, but we build tools to create impact. In the case of Moneythink Mobile, we are introducing financial literacy to the next generation of leaders. If we get Moneythink Mobile in front of 100 students and impact 1% of them in two months, what happens when we reach 1,000 students over a year?
Of the students in the Moneythink Mobile pilot group, 80% downloaded the app and 34% interacted with it, while 4% completed all nine challenges. This percentage may seem small, but these are power users. Moneythink can grow their user group and start to see the 4% impact increase over time.
Screen images not simulated: That right there is our mobile event guide for NY Design Week 2014 (the widely-accepted colloquial name for second weekend of NYCxDesign), which kicks off tomorrow night. As both design week and our own editorial offerings evolve—we're making a newspaper, maybe you've heard of it—the mobile guide offers a slightly different selection from years past: The folks at NYCxDesign have put together an impressively comprehensive event guide for just about every art and design event that is happening between May 9–20 this year, and we partnered with them to produce a printed event guide that you will certainly be seeing around the city if you have not grabbed one already (we're also updating the list of stockists). Here's the PDF of the print event guide, for you fogies and print fetishists (guilty as charged!).
We'd also like to take this occasion to announce our mobile agenda for this weekend: We're currently forging ahead with the C77 Design Daily and we'd like to offer you, dear reader, a chance to see your work in print! Simply tag your Tweets and Instagrams with #C77DD and we'll take care of the rest!
Speaking of which, are you following @CoreJr on Instagram yet? We'll be reporting live this weekend online and off, so you can get your regular dose of beautiful images and teasers from the events and exhibitions and stay tuned for the full story in print.
Those of you who have nothing better to do can stalk our C77DD distribution team at @C77DD, where we'll be posting updates from our delivery truck and pop-up reading rooms!
HTC launched the new HTC One (M8) to great fanfare in central London yesterday, its new DotView case stealing much of the show. Core77 UK correspondent Sam Dunne caught up with VP of Design Scott Croyle to talk industrial design on the front-line.
With the keynotes out of the way and a restless swarm of tech bloggers let loose on banks of demo handsets, we were plucked from the fray and ushered down a bright white corridor of pre-fab meeting rooms. A quick handshake and a warm smile, Scott takes a seat at a table strewn with a spectrum of handsets, apologizing for the smell of fresh paint. I mention the local joke that the smell follows the Queen around. He lifts his gaze and grins quizzically.
HTC's VP of Design makes no attempt to hide his relief at another launch event done and dusted. "Selling," Croyle tells me, "is a huge part of my job, of the designer's job, both externally and internally... You gotta engage the business with stories to drive home innovations that are actually meaningful to people... even our engineers are selling their new stuff with fun little consumer stories now..." And then, of course, it's showtime: "Giving the consumer the stories behind the design helps them engage with our work emotionally." Getting up on stage, Scott admits, doesn't come naturally, "but it's so important for us as designers to put ourselves and our ideas out there... we've got to be confident and resilient if we want to be heard."
As a leader within a massive organization, Scott eloquently elaborates on the ongoing battle of championing meaning in product development: "There's a fire hose of information and stuff coming at you from all directions all the time... the only thing you can do is to filter it. With experience, designers develop what I call an informed intuition. You don't need to know everything before you act. You do have to know when to trust your gut. These days, I can look at the title and summary of a report and know whether I should dig for more detail. It comes with practice." With a wince of self-awareness, Scott speaks of the language he has armed himself with for fighting feature creep and mediocrity. "I don't let anyone talk about differentiation, it's not about that, it's got to be better-entiated. I'm always talking about meaningful innovation... innovation by itself just doesn't cut it."
A couple weeks ago, we took a look at SIMPLE Mobile, a great new way to approach phones that's picking up steam here in the United States after seeing success around the world. If you have an unlocked phone that has a spot for a SIM card, SIMPLE Mobile makes it easy to use one of their SIMs and get yourself set up with low-cost, flexible phone, text and data plans.
As part of their promotion, SIMPLE Mobile has been hosting Change Your Game, a series of web videos and user submissions that show how young people are changing the game within their creative fields. In their first two episodes, they looked at the legendary street art and skater scenes of Los Angeles, and in the latest, they've moved east to Houston's world of rap.
Travel to most countries around the world, and when you arrive at the airport and step into a convenience store, it's pretty safe to assume that you'll be able to pick up a SIM card and data plan for a reasonable price. By contrast, the most common business model in the United States is to offer a phone at low or no cost but lock customers into a contract for two years. Customers are often left paying a bill of over 50 dollars a month for the most straightforward data plan. If they're lucky, they won't get any surprise charges on their credit card bill. For those who travel internationally, it's often necessary to purchase a new phone or a pricey world band phone, because the more common wireless technology network in North America, CDMA, is rarely recognized abroad.
SIMPLE Mobile is trying to shake things up. Offering a SIM card and easy-to-understand talk, text and data plans, the company aims to make the process of owning a phone and mobile plan a little more straightforward. A 40 dollar per month prepaid plan gets you 1GB of data at 4G speeds, with unlimited talk, text and even international text. Unless you're watching a lot of YouTube videos and plan to upload large documents with your phone, that's probably more than enough for basic use. Expecting a heavier month for calls? Just shift the plan for the next month. It's easy and flexible, as it should be.
Although SIMPLE Mobile isn't offered everywhere in the US, it runs on the TracFone Wireless network and is available in most of the country, especially in urban areas. If you have an unlocked phone with a SIM card slot, it will probably work. Even a tablet like a 3G iPad should work on the network, though you might need to purchase a micro SIM instead of a regular SIM. This means you can browse the web on a much larger screen and not have to worry about hunting for wifi all the time. And since phones that support SIMPLE Mobile run on the world-friendly GSM band, you won't need a new phone abroad; you could even just turn on their international plan for the month you travel.
Earlier this year, popular Linux-based operating system Ubuntu announced their mobile OS, leading to speculation about a forthcoming foray into hardware. Last week saw the launch of an ambitious crowdfunding campaign for the very same: Canonical, the company behind the OS, is seeking a whopping $32 million to introduce a "low-volume, high-technology platform," The new smartphone is expressly designed for "enthusiasts and mobile computing professionals"—Ubuntu draws an analogy to Formula 1 racing, in which performance-oriented R&D "accelerates the adoption of new technologies and drives them down into the mainstream."
To that end, the first generation of the Ubuntu Edge—available only via presale on IndieGogo—features a clever dual-boot system, such that the device runs Ubuntu mobile OS and Android simultaneously. Moreover, since the Edge runs a full version of Ubuntu desktop OS, it can also serve as a full-fledged PC when connected to an external monitor. Thus, the smartphone also represents "the future of converged computing," in which a single piece of hardware serves as the brain behind a suite of applications: mobile, desktop and potentially anything in between.
Of course, the rectangular black slab itself has duly impressive specs, with a 4.5-inch, 1280×720 sapphire glass screen, plus 4GB of RAM and a massive 128GB hard drive, as well as Dual LTE, Bluetooth, front- and rear-cameras—in short, the works. Designed in-house at Ubuntu, industrial designer Chee Wong has posted a first look at the "materials, stories and process [behind] the development of the Ubuntu Edge."
In the world of tech design, bigger seems to be better. The more people you can reach, the more you can broadcast, the more successful your app. And yet the root of the mobile phone—or the phone more generally—has always been about one-on-one conversation. It was relatively recently that we could send a blast to more than a few people at a time through apps like Twitter and Foursquare.
As these media have matured and more of our colleagues, former flings, in-laws and friends have migrated to them, our use of them has changed. We've become better at choreographing ourselves and showing our best sides to the screen, capturing the most flattering angle of our faces, our homes, our evenings out, our loved ones and our trips.
Dubbing this experience "success theater," she goes on to note apps that are designed for more intimacy, like Snapchat or Facebook Poke. After years of being encouraged to gather as many followers and friends as possible, many users are swinging in the opposite direction.
Which got me thinking about two apps that have picked up steam as of late. Both of them—WhatsApp and WeChat—focus on simple sharing for small groups or individuals. You could call them, reductively, complex SMS systems, but what they allow is much broader. From sharing videos and pics to even voice memos, they make facilitate one-on-one exchanges between friends, rather than blasts and curated photos designed for public consumption. The ability to create small groups means that circles of friends can easily chat and share ideas, with all the multimedia features of a Twitter or Facebook and none of the pressure to perform.
WhatsApp seems to be more popular with my American, European and African friends, whereas WeChat, developed by China's Tencent, is clearly dominant in China, and perhaps other parts of Asia. It's not a surprise to me that they've caught on, and I suspect more and more apps like them will start popping up. If the latter decade was focused on scaling up social media and watching sites like Facebook enter the mainstream, maybe this decade is about designing for intimacy, designing for the social experiences we want to share just with a handful of friends.
The best design meets our needs before we can even articulate them. With the App to the Future design challenge, Windows Phone and Core77 intend to foster the circumstances for intelligent, practical and beautiful design. The ingredients to get designers started are all here on the contest site: a smartly conceived UI, clear and helpful developer tips, and an evolved Windows Phone 8.
We held our first call for Windows Phone app designs last year and had incredibly conceived winning entries. This year, contestants will be designing for the next generation device. Windows Phone 8's changes include a new OS, faster processing, additional user features and general bug-stomping after careful review of Windows 7.5 feedback. The results have delighted developers and users alike. Many updates built upon well-received, existing elements like Live Tiles and grew them—literally. Live Tiles can now be resized with the added option to personalize content hierarchy based on user preference.
The 120k+ apps in the Windows Phone Store (formerly Marketplace) are a strong beginning for a phone that initially received the mixed praise of being a superior choice to Android but a latecomer to the game. Microsoft is aware that its well-built platform requires the buy-in from app developers and community in order to flourish. Developers new to Windows Phone could be understandably reluctant to invest their resources in building for a smaller market, but Microsoft has greatly expanded global access to the Windows Phone Store in just a year and continues to promote Windows Phone apps through various channels and provide regional Windows Phone Champs tasked to help developers locally. And this chicken/egg cycle yielded its own positive side effect: a remarkably clear design, development and submission process to the Windows Phone Store. After creating the platform and outlining hardware standards, Microsoft understood that removing barriers to creation and encouraging innovation are key in both catching up with iOS and Android app offerings and building their own app process.
Windows Phone's particular design principles mean that apps run nearly identically across different hardware. That reassurance of similarity is one less headache for users and developers alike. For example, Kid's Corner—a terrific feature that gathers all the games, apps, music and videos for your child into one place while securing the rest of the phone from prying fingers—will be precisely the same experience on Nokia, Samsung and HTC models.
Adding to the list of features developers can play with and users can enjoy, the technical overhaul includes support for HD screens and multicore processors. Business users can happily edit a Word document or create an Excel spreadsheet. And linked email means you can view all messages from different accounts in one inbox (something iOS users are accustomed to), then save your documents, photos and chats to Microsoft's cloud, SkyDrive.
For this challenge in particular, we suggest going through the Boot Camps on Windows Phone Design Language. After considering the app you'd like to design and mocking it up, have a Windows Phone interface designer take a look by signing up for a Lighting Design Review. Afterwards, you'll be able to integrate their feedback and further refine your app. Then, there's the business of actually getting 'er done. If you're not a seasoned developer, you still might want to give app dev a try via the Windows Phone Dev Center (their 2-day Jump Start has been widely lauded as great watch-and-do training). We had three winning teams last year develop their own apps (with one team being total—but gifted—noobs at developing) and submit them to the store. And developers that are looking for new design ideas to implement and grow (or simply would like a chance to win a Windows Phone 8) can offer their dev muscles.
So, onwards, potential Windows Phone 8 designers and developers! You probably have an incredible idea brewing in your noggin. The resources to make that concept a reality are at your fingertips...and now you've got a little fire under your tush with this contest. Good luck and happy designing your App to the Future!
We'll give you just one hint as to designer Christian de Poorter named his latest project, a concept for a phone with a flexible display: it begins with "i" and ends with "flex." The Milan-based designer predicts that "2013 will be the year of flexible displays: not only a technological revolution, but also something that will open new unexplored possibilities," as he duly suggests in the "iFlex," a proposal for a so-called "flexPhone."
The two [ends] of the rigid flexPhone aluminum case are connected by the central silicone part with deformable inlay so that the device can assume and maintain any desired angle, supporting new usage patterns. The phone has a magnetic lock for the closed position that protects the display from scratches and bumps. The flexible touchscreen display is surrounded by a nylon frame.
De Poorter doesn't mention a specific supplier, but surely there have been new developments in flexible touchscreen since last April, when we saw LG's flexible displays and Atmel's XSense technology. If the CST-01 is any indication, e-ink displays are now thinner and less expensive than ever before, and de Poorter might be onto something in his further predictions:
Obviously, the same principle can be applied to tablets and laptops as well. The iFlex concept can give birth to the flexApps, a new generation of software applications that have never been possible with rigid displays. Some new usage examples have already been devised, such as a digital makeup tool for women, a bent-over placeholder for conference speakers with the name for the public on one side and the remaining time on the other, and an alarm clock that can be switched off with a touch of the hand on the top.
Continuing from my earlier scattering of field notes, in this post, I want to turn my attentions to the rural areas of Uganda and some of the uses of technology I observed. Dubbed the "Pearl of Africa", the country has rich, fertile soil with great potential. Agriculture is a vital component of the economy, and according to Wikipedia, nearly 30% of its exports are coffee alone. Anecdotally speaking, most people I meet in Kampala, the capital, have family ties in rural areas—a reflection of the fact that most of the population is rural.
As with my previous post, my field notes often take the form of Instagram. Although I eventually type up more thorough notes, I find the practice of taking live field notes to be beneficialhttp://www.ictworks.org/news/2011/12/23/avoiding-digital-divide-hype-using-mobile-phones-developmentboth because they allow me to capture my initial thoughts and reactions while they're fresh in my head and because they spark dialogue and conversations with social media friends who get me thinking differently about what I see.
So much of food in rural areas is experienced in bags—stored and shipped in bags, purchased in bags, even sometimes cooked with bags. Known as kaveera, plastic bags are abundant in Uganda. The Uganda High Court recently ruled in favor banning such bags, a trend across East Africa, but it remains to be seen how the ban could be enforced. This is a story of technology but not communications technology. I couldn't help but wonder: what could technology provide that helps balance the twin needs of reducing environmental impact and providing accessible food packaging?
While spending time in Oyam, in northern Uganda, I saw a number of smart phones being used. This Nokia could play videos and music, display ebooks and of course capture photos, but it's not connected to a data plan—nor were most smart phones I encountered in the region. Rather, individuals would find opportunities to access an Internet-enabled computer (most often at a net cafe) in nearby towns that do have the Internet, and they would download materials, which could range from Nigerian comedies dubbed in Luo, the local language, to educational materials about agriculture and business. In this regard, Ugandans used the device more like an iPod... which happened to have phone capabilities.
In rural areas, I tend to rely much more often on my feature phone than on computers and my iPhone. It gives me an appreciation for the disruptive role of mobile phones. Although our driver (whose stereo you might recognize from the previous post) lives in the city, he spends much of his time in the field. But that doesn't stop his business: armed with multiple phones and phone plans, he's developed a 'cocktail of special plans that allow him to make multiple calls at low rates. He keeps his phone charged by his car and whenever we're stopped, he's constantly making calls and conducting business.
Tokyo Designers Week wrapped up a couple weeks ago, but NTT Docomo's remarkable 20th Anniversary Exhibition Future lives on online, supplemented by Japan-based forum member designobot's brief exhibition recap:
The onsite event was a wall of 20 years of smartphones going left to right from oldest to newest.
From the left were the black and gray brick types that were as boring as the more recent phones on the far right, black slabs. Right of the middle (early-mid 2000s) was where all the action was at. Phone in the picture, wristomo, was 2003.
Also interesting to note is the delay on the Japanese market for smartphones, mainly from 2010 on.
I wasn't able to find any images of the actual exhibition, but thankfully the exhibition website is as comprehensive as it is straightforward. The twelve-image thumbnail layout gives a nice sense of handset evolution over time—by 1998 there are a couple pages worth of phones per year, with the occasional oddball form factor among the mostly undifferentiated hardware. By the flip-phone-dominated mid-2000s, the otherwise decontextualized renderings somehow conjure typologies of everything from kitchen appliances to building façades or perhaps robots. (The fact that there are no images of open flip-phones, regretable though it may be, reinforces this uncanny uniformity between the devices.)
Sign o' the times? In the old days, corporations demonstrated largesse in times of disaster by sending in trucks loaded with canned soup and blankets. But at a press conference today, Mayor Bloomberg announced AT&T is sending special hotspot trucks to NYC, to help alleviate the crippled communications systems left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Hooked up to the satellite grid, the self-contained trucks will spray both Wi-Fi and cellular in a radius around them, and also offer charging stations that passersby can use to gas up their mobiles.
The Mayor was not specific, but I did a little digging and these trucks are presumably the "Satellite COLT (Cell on Light Truck)" vehicles you see pictured here. They're part of AT&T's Network Disaster Recovery Team, in which the company's invested over half a billion dollars. The team, which has been quietly doing exercises and delivering global disaster relief since 1992, consists of engineers, technicians and "a fleet of more than 320 self-contained equipment trailers and support vehicles that house the same equipment and components as an AT&T data-routing or voice-switching center." It's kind of cool, something like a Special Forces unit for the telecommunications industry:
We had the opportunity to preview the new sketching applicationPaper by FiftyThree for the iPad. The web video showing their application makes it look easy and beautiful, but, as they say, art is hard. Our previous efforts with iPad sketching applications (Alias Sketchbook Pro) looked nothing like Jim Lee's Batman. No surprise there.
The finger has always been a blunt instrument, unless you happen to be gifted with especially pointy ones. Transparent Capacitive styluses allow a slightly better correlation between the visible contact surface and the actual point, but there is no substitute for pen and paper (though the Wacom Cintiq comes close).
Paper favors gestures to click menus and "napkin" sketches race by compared to other applications we've seen. The ability to overlay watercolor on existing drawings makes highlighting and indication a breeze. Much as they may try, design professors attempting to make students "loose" often fail because we can't help but be precious. By limiting the toolset, and especially due to the absence of layers, zoom and brush size, there isn't really any way to be fussy with Paper although I certainly tried. Instead of spending lots of time with one idea, the hope is that you create many.
Anyone familiar with this site knows we have the deep love for our Cupertino Bros but the recent addition of camera accessibility to the lock screen of our iPhone has mixed us up a bit; sure, the utility is awesome but the execution doesn't have the ol' Apple Intuition. This was a purely internalized conflict till it was surfaced by Brye Kobayashi's proposal for a different implementation in our discussion boards—what do you think, better or worse?
The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona started this week, with three of our winning apps, car-pal+, Cash Hound and Social Mints, on display as a part of the Microsoft showcase. They are loaded on Windows Phones for conference-goers to play with. And, as of last week, car-pal+ is now available on the Windows Marketplace! This last article in the Fast Track to the Mobile App series covers the development process of car pal+ and Blackbelt.
For the design competition, Alan Asher and Chris Barlett of car-pal+ wanted to create an app that would be useful to a large audience and could be developed over a short timeline. The audience they decided to build for were car owners, with specific app functionality for fuel and maintenance tracking. Since neither were familiar with the Windows Phone platform, they spent time playing with the phone in stores, watching YouTube videos on phone how-to's, and getting a feel for the Metro user interface style before they began designing. They first diagrammed their high-level workflow on paper, and then wireframed their app screens.
After playing around with the Windows Phone Software Development Kit, the two decided to work on the application without the help of a Microsoft developer. Though neither had developing experience, they found the existing documentation on AppHub and MSDN pages incredibly helpful, and decided to pursue a learning opportunity. With full-time jobs, the two met via Skype nightly to work on the app. With an eye towards having it in the Marketplace by the end of February, they decided to roll out their app in phases, adding fuel price and enhanced maintenance features with time. They expect to release an update for car-pal+ within the month.
Mark Salerno of Blackbelt is currently working with a Microsoft developer to complete his app. The level-up business productivity app takes the form of a game and requires two operating screens: one for a supervisor and another for the player. Like a referee or 'sensei,' the supervisor can set objectives, create incentives, and monitor the productivity of their 'players.' The player's portal is where they can view their 'mission' and meet goals to advance through (in the spirit of martial arts) different 'belt' colors.
With our Fast Track to the Mobile App program drawing to a close, we are proud to take a look at our winners, notables and finalists in the newly launched Fast Track Gallery.
Three winners, car-pal+, Cash Hound and Social Mints completed their apps in time for the Mobile World Congress taking place in Barcelona next week. These three apps will be included in the featured apps on the demo Windows Phone devices Microsoft will be showing at the event February 27-March 1. The other 2 winners, Blackbelt and Bridge, are currently looking for partners and in development.
We are also proud to announce our 13 notables! Travel Trove, Project Mosaic, 1tap2send, YouTube Download, Meeting Planner, Get Reimbursed, MetroDiff, mHealth, SMS Scheduler, TASKMASTER, SlickFlow, Days Until and Draw & Tell are all available in the App Hub.
Two of our winners apps are now available in the Windows Marketplace! For apps to qualify for World Mobile Congress promotion, they had to be in the Marketplace by February 8th. With this installment, we'll go through Social Mints and Cash Hound's final polishing steps to have their apps ready and certified, as well as giving a brief update of Black Belt, car pal+, and Bridge who are on a parallel development path.
The perfect, robust app may seem unachievable when faced with the time constraints our winners had. Keeping versions and updates in mind is an important facet of a development schedule. The objective is to create an excellent v.1 that can scale and grow new functionality, if added. For Cash Hound, Geof Harries and Michael Johnson's app on cash flow management, they wrote all the features their app should have one day on a whiteboard. They then identified what was absolutely essential for a first version, and focussed on those features.
With that core functionality working, the next step is final user testing: handing the phone over to individuals to see if what the designers and developers have been aiming for is shining through. That user experience feedback gives designers a perspective on what works (e.g., if the planned route to get from point A to B is indeed the one a user takes) and what could use improvement. With that knowledge, designer/developers decide on what interface and functionality changes this version requires.
New Yorkers can be finicky about navigating their subway system. In 1972, Massimo Vignelli designed a map for it that was simple, beautiful and readable, and remains iconic to this day. In 1979, after much controversy it was redesigned by Michael Hertz to more realistically represent the trains' paths and the city, in particular Central Park (which Vignelli's map depicted as square rather than rectangle). Hertz's remains the map used today.
Today, with all our devices, data visualizations, and infographics, we are (thankfully) more accepting of designs of abstract representations. And we New Yorkers were desperately in need of some well-designed New York City Subway apps.
The Mass Transit Authority (MTA) knows their audience, and smartly realized they themselves were not the ideal creators for a well-designed, often-used tool such as the NYC subway system app. In July, the MTA posed an "Appquest" challenge, with directives to provide the 8.5 million riders with "access to great apps that improve their transit experience." The MTA released data for use, and encouraged developers to have at it. They now link to 47 apps for smartphones on their site.
Embark NYC won the challenge on February 3 for its simple, focused design. The developers of Embark are four guys—David Hodge, Ian Leighton, Taylor Malloy, and Tom Hauburger—who made their first transit app, iBART for San Francisco, while still in college. Embark now has apps for Boston, London, Chicago, Philadelphia and D.C.
I use the NY subway daily, and have tried several transit Iphone apps in a search for one well-designed, which works for all needs. The Maps App covers most of my needs most of the time - but not underground. Some apps, like NYC Mate are comprehensive maps of ALL NY transit: subway, bus and outlying train system; while others, like ITrans, are merely useful as a PDF of the map to view underground. Exit Strategy is great solely in showing where on the train car to get on and off to quickly get to where you are going, and HopStop provides far too much information and detail for daily use.
Embark's functionality focus is simple: make getting from point A to point B as easy as possible. David Hodge, CEO of Embark said that this simplicity is key.
"Our feature list might not fully stack up against some other apps, but that's fine," Hodge said. We leave out some of the extraneous features that would take a lot of time to include but only benefit a tiny percentage of users, and instead, we make sure we do a really bang-up job on the features that everyone uses. It's all about being efficient. You can plan a trip in our app faster than any other NYC app."
Fast Track to the Mobile App winners had the 'best case scenario' track: get their apps developed, tested and in the Marketplace by early February in time for promotion before (and hopefully during the) Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. However, sometimes life throws wrenches in the best-laid plans. In this installment, we continue reporting on the next steps of the app development process, implementation and testing, and check-in on our winners—both those who are developing apps themselves and those working with Microsoft developers.
To be on track for Barcelona, a contestant's next step is implementing the app's core functionality. For each app, that will differ. Geof Harries and Michael Johnson's cash flow management app, Cash Hound, requires financial functionality so they programmed the ability to add, edit and delete income and expenses in order to run calculations to determine spendable income. They then created charting tools to visualize that knowledge. With that functionality in place, they tested the app to see what worked, and in light of that, what needed improvement.
The testing phase can only take place on a workable prototype (discussed in our last article). Implementing the aspects that make the app functional mean dealing with the real-life problems that may arise. The time for theoretical conjecture is over: at this stage, developers are considering specifically the "hows" and "whats" to best bring the app's concept to life. Pratik Kothari'sSocial Mints tracks what's being said about a chosen topic of interest (e.g. your company, a celebrity, a sports team, etc.) by fetching data from social media sites. Kothari focused on the core functionality of the app's responsiveness by improving the sluggishness he initially encountered. He reworked the architecture so a filtered set of results would now fetch from a cloud component, making the initial download of information smaller and faster. Cacheing mechanisms were applied so when multiple users searched for the same topic (aka 'Mint'), quick response times would be maintained.
Testing makes any necessary modifications to the interface more obvious based on the app's actual use. Visual elements that don't fully serve core functionality will be adjusted so they do. Then, more testing, testing, and still more testing. This may mean removing or adding data to test how the app behaves in every imaginable circumstance, and finding and fixing bugs. It's in this phase that an app developer sees the last holes in the app's construction and patches them up.
With our Fast Track to the Mobile App winners, there are two parallel lines of development: those who are working with Microsoft developers, and those who are doing their own implementation/development. In this installment, we'll take you through this initial phase of taking the app from concept to reality, highlighting steps that anyone interested in designing and implementing an app would take, and give you some background on what the winners are doing specifically.
Contestants were asked to submit up to five screens and a description of the proposed app, with the option of adding supporting documentation such as a video or presentation. Starting with a strong conceptual and design foundation for the app, the next step for existing or potential developers is to build out to a workable prototype. This might translate to different actions depending on the circumstances.
For Social Mints, Pratik Kothari's app provides business users the ability to monitor social media mentions of their brand, interests or other pertinent topics (e.g., customer service), that meant considering the judges' feedback on the use of 'Mint' and the visualization choices. In response, he bolstered the metaphor by clearly tying each keyword to a mint; he considered different visualization patterns, and settled on one that he felt would most clearly display the data. To think through the app's interactions, Kothari created wireframes to map out the user experience of the app; these then contributed to the creation of any remaining screens. He's at a point where he can look at the different cloud-based services that allow for Social Mints to fetch real-time data from various social media sites.
Geof Harries and Michael Johnson, the designer and developer behind Cash Hound, a business cash flow management app that quickly determines how specific costs can impact your bottom line, moved towards building a workable prototype by focusing on the back-end first. Their app was formerly named Rhythmatic. When the winning team found an existing iPhone app with the same name. Even though the app had a completely different usage (rhythm/music gaming), they chose to change their app name to Cash Hound in order to avoid confusion and allow for freedom to develop the business app on different platforms. The core functional concepts will remain the same, but the visual design (colors and textures) will change a bit.
By now, you might've already looked over the five winning entries in the Fast Track to the Mobile App design competition, and seen the list of the 95 finalists who impressed judges with their combination of practical, creative and fun concepts. Over the next month, we'll follow the winners as they pair up with developers to turn those designs into workable apps.
Three winners (Black Belt, Bridge, and car pal+) will be paired with well-known Windows Phone developers or MVPs (Most Valuable Professional) who expressed an affinity to work on a specific winning app. Two of the winners (Social Mints and Rhythmatic) will be doing their own development. Winners and finalists will be connected to a Microsoft Mobile Phone Champ—Windows Phone mavens who are developers in the winners' regions with intimate knowledge of the ins-and-outs of app building, to help them along. Then, it's on to making a to-do list of necessary steps to ready their designs for launch in the Windows Phone Marketplace by February 15th. We want to encourage everyone who entered the contest to go through as much of the app development process as they can to bring their proposals to life. In this special series, we'll be exploring that process as the winners prepare their apps for entry into the Windows Phone Marketplace.
All winners and finalists will receive a 1-year subscription to the App Hub development community and the first 25 finalists who launch their apps in the Windows Marketplace will become our Notable Finalists, scoring a Windows Phone. Winners not only receive a subscription to App Hub, Windows Phone and XBox 360 with Kinect, but they also get an app development deal to fast track their apps to the Windows Marketplace. Keep checking back over the next couple months as we start Phase 2 of the competition: following the winners along the development path from design to launching their apps in the Windows Phone Marketplace. Without further ado...
Bridge - an integrated mobile tool for small team collaboration across time zones.
Ying Wei is a passionate User Experience designer specializing in user research, user interface and interaction design. She received her Bachelor's degree in Interface Design from Multimedia University, Malaysia in 2007 and her Master's degree in Interaction Design from Kookmin University, Seoul, South Korea in Feb 2011. She was an interaction designer at Autodesk in Shanghai where her responsibility is to assist the development of the global products and workflows such as AutoCAD Map3D and Digital Cities projects in a global team spreading over US, Canada, and China.
Currently, she is working as an information architect in Seoul.
Ying Wei loves traveling and exploring different countries and cultures.
Blackbelt - a level-up based business app aimed at improving company productivity and employee self awareness through objectives, incentives and competition.
New freelancer Mark William Salerno set out to become a car designer yet could not deny his passion for mixed design disciplines in Arts, Graphic, Multimedia and Industrial Design.
Earning 'The Man' nickname at Design Innovation Milano, he became an ID project leader and international tutor. Moving to the design capital in 2006, he completed a master course with Alfa Romeo at the famous Scuola Politecnica di Design. An upbringing in Australia excelled his natural skills with studies at Swinburne TAFE and Monash University.
Utlizing all facets of art and design, he continues to develop a fine 'explore-filter-evolve' cycle of creative labor.
Social Mints - easily track and measure what people are saying about a company, brand or new product across the social media landscape.
Pratik Kothari works as Director of IT for reQuire, LLC and also runs his own company Techark Consultancy. Kothari holds a Bachelor's and Master's in Computer Science and is passionate about solving challenging problems.
Microsoft has recognized Kothari as a Developer Hero for his extremely popular Windows Phone apps: Mood Swing, Dress Pal, Smart Goals, RedMinder and ...honey, I got it! All his apps are very practical and based out of necessities in one's daily life. An AppHub Spotlight on Kothari's apps is available here.
Rhythmatic - an easy to use and powerful business cash-flow management mobile app.
Geof Harries is a designer who is most commonly hired to research, plan and conceive user interfaces for enterprise software products. When not working on client projects, he and the team at Subvert develop their own commercial software products built on the Microsoft technology platform. Outside of work, Geof loves to spend time with his wife and three children. He occasionally can be found in the Yukon wilderness atop his mountain bike, cross-country skis or snowboard.
car-pal+ - helps road warriors track fuel efficiency, find the nearest gas station, and monitor road alerts and maintenance history.
Alan Asher is an aspiring 28-year-old entrepreneur and digital-media designer whose passion is interface design and user experience. He enjoys designing and consulting from start-up ventures to enterprise-level applications.
With six years of business and technology experience in the financial-services industry, Alan looks forward to meeting new people, learning from new opportunities, and engaging in new challenges. His other interests include finance, technological trends and photography.
Alan is also an active member of his local community, dedicating personal time to programs like Junior Achievement to cultivate young business leaders of the future.
We can't reveal too much about these apps before they're launched, but here are the finalists we'll also be keeping an eye on:
Good news! We know you're going to ask for it, so we're extending our Fast Track to the Mobile App design challenge a full two days through this coming weekend (Extended deadline—Sunday, November 20th, 11:59pm EST). Now there's no excuse not to put the finishing touches on your app design submissions. If you've been sitting on the sidelines thinking you'd never get your entry done in time for this Friday, you've got an extra 48 hours to go for the gold, or in this case, an app development deal to help bring your masterpiece to marketplace. You're welcome!
If you're just tuning in, Fast Track to the Mobile App is a mobile app design competition giving designers with little-to-no coding experience an opportunity to get your best business and workplace app concepts into the Windows Phone Marketplace. You'll retain the rights to your design and share revenues with a partner developer on your app sales. There's a whole list of prizes including the chance to have your winning work presented at Mobile World Congress in 2012. So check out the competition site, register if you haven't already, and submit your best entries by 11:59pm EST this Sunday, November 20th.
In less than two weeks, judges start reviewing design submissions for the Fast Track to the Mobile App contest—an international Windows Phone app design challenge. The competition, launched last month by Core77 and the Windows Phone design team, challenges designers to create work productivity solutions tailored for the Windows Phone. The contest theme addresses the work we often find ourselves doing on our ubiquitous little computers (i.e., smartphones) and asks designers to consider how we might do it more effectively.
Applicants design the face of the app—no coding or further app development necessary—and enter anything from sketches to full color comps along with an app description. We're looking for great ideas and designs—we'll help the best ideas get built. Part of the prizing is to encourage our winning and finalist designers to take these great ideas and, if they need, pair them up with experienced Windows Phone developers so that these apps don't just stay concepts, but are actually made and launched in the Windows Marketplace, with revenue going to the designers and developers who made them. We'll be following the development process as the winning designs are transformed from concept into reality, and are launched in the Windows Marketplace. Our hope is to get as many thoughtful, interesting designs that we can, launched and out into the app world.
The Windows Phone 7.5, Microsoft's most recent mobile product and platform, was released this September, and has been receiving uniform praise on its 500+ improvements from the Windows Phone 7. With the release of the new Windows 7.5 OS (codenamed Mango), and the clean, uncluttered Metro user interface, it's been given the critical "thumbs up" for doing a lot of things right, with the consensus being that it's a worthy addition to the mobile marketplace. But, Microsoft's ambitions for the phone requires that it grab a bigger chunk of users and app developers. Right now, Windows has some 30,000 apps available, nearly double their number from six months ago. Though the growth is impressive, for comparison's sake Android has roughly 250,000 and Apple, 500,000. While Windows claim of having quality over quantity might be true, apps and app development are measures of confidence in a device.
Since it's a recent release, conclusions about Microsoft's sales performance in the mobile market are in let's-wait-and-see mode. However, the phone's design and functionality opens itself to some unique app possibilities. Live tiles can be double-sided and have multiple uses, and App Connect links search with apps (e.g., searching for fast food might yield a delivery app alongside other results). It's getting praise for Metro's out-of-the-box differences like its blocky, non-grid user interface and Window 7.5's integration of features like barcode scanning and song ID into the OS. The Fast Track to the Mobile App competition encourages designers to experiment with Windows phone particular functionality in app development. For example, for Foursquare's Windows app, they utilized the live tiles to pin 'places' and 'specials' to the phone's start screen. The phone is also notably person-centric, meaning that communication is grouped by person rather than medium, so, your chats, emails and texts from your best friend are all grouped under her as a contact, along with her chat availability.
It's time to fire-up your favorite image editor, grab a cup of coffee and crank out that awesome app idea you've been dreaming about for the Fast Track to the Mobile App design challenge. There's less than two weeks remaining to enter with a shot at winning one of five revenue-sharing development deals to help bring your app idea to Windows Marketplace, along with other great prizes.
In recent weeks we've been seeing lots of great app entries coming in that tackle all sorts of daily business tasks like trend analyzing, intuitive tools for note taking and every other area of work life that could benefit from some sort of push-button ease-of-use. The real beauty of this design challenge is there's no coding or programming experience required. Right now, more than ever, designers from all practices with little or no IX design experience can participate in this exciting and expansive area of product design that is increasingly effecting the world's population in a positive way. We've even got some great Photoshop templates that take some of the work out of prototyping your apps screen designs.
If you haven't signed up, there's still time to register and submit your great idea. Login to enter and submit your entry by midnight on Friday, November 18th!
Calling all mobile app designers! Core77 and Microsoft have teamed up to put you on the Fast Track to the Mobile App—an app design challenge for Windows Phone. We're challenging you to push the boundaries of productivity by designing an app for Windows Phone that not only allows you to work anywhere, but also rethinks how to get things done in our mobile (phone) world.
You conceive of it, design it and present it—you'll retain all rights to it. Five winning designers will be paired with registered Windows Phone developers in an App Development Deal to create your apps and launch them in the Windows Phone Marketplace in a revenue-sharing partnership with the developers! The winners also receive a Windows Phone device, Xbox 360 with Kinect and App Hub subscription. 100 finalists will also win App Hub subscriptions, of which 25 semi-finalists will also win Windows Phones.
Register now and submit as many app designs as you want through November 18, 2011 (only one app per designer can win). No coding necessary—submit prototypes, Photoshop mock-ups or scans of your sketchpad. Let the best apps win! fasttrackapp.core77.com