Reporting by Yin Ho
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.
The first step of app development for designers and newbie developers alike is registering in the App Hub and downloading development tools for the Windows Phone. Designers can access a thorough resource repository of all they need to develop for the Phone or Xbox, a checklist for preparing that app for certification, and perhaps most importantly, access to a community of like-minded developers.
Over the next couple of weeks, winners will be communicating with their developer to figure out next steps. For the winners who will be developing their apps on their own, they'll be getting their own ducks in a row (with help from Mobile Phone Champs, when necessary) in preparation for implementation. Those steps may include refining / making additions to their submissions to include more fleshed-out screens, further articulating their interactions and creating app icons. If a design requires any modification in light of development requirements, this is the phase where those will be identified, and changes made.
It's during this time that designers will re-examine their visual design decisions by firming up what happens behind the scene. An app's interface determines a user's journey through the app; most ideally, it's a straightforward path. It's often helpful to design user interfaces (UI) and the corresponding information architecture (IA) backwards: start with where you want the user to end up, then create the clearest path of how they'll get there. Each onscreen element can enhance or detract from that goal. With eyes set on development, the Fast Track designers and developers will be looking at each visual piece in light of how it will work, and modify from there.
There's also a reality check to take into account. February 15th isn't an arbitrary date: it's the deadline for apps to be in the Marketplace if they'd like to be included in the Fast Track to the Mobile App gallery, and possibly even presented at the 2012 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. It's the largest exhibition in the mobile industry and a gathering place where executives and developers learn about and present developments and products on the near horizon. It's a great place for a product to be showcased, and if winners aspire to have their apps presented there, they're committing to an ambitious timeline for those new to mobile app development. In order to have a strong app that meets criteria to be in the Microsoft Marketplace, they'll have to prioritize decisions to make the best first version they can.
So, they're off to do just that! Stay tuned over the next month as we follow how car pal+ (Alan Asher), Rhythmatic (Geof Harries), Bridge (Ying Wei Koh and Dennis Park), Social Mints (Pratik Kothari), Blackbelt (Mark William Salerno) and finalists (more on them and their app designs here) make their way from design concept to app reality.