Illuminating Mobile Development for Windows
When Microsoft was coming out with Windows Phone 7.5, I was honestly excited. I thought, “finally!” Microsoft is no longer the biter that everyone thinks they are. With a company this prolific, this phone has got to be great!. So I bought myself a Dell Venue Pro… My friends’ ridicules ensued. It was heavy, had an unwieldy thickness, and it was not an iPhone. My comeback was always one that consisted of how the weight is that of solid gold, and the size is one that I can use, for personal protection. Like a very large…and chunky ninja star.Today, Windows Phone devices have gone through several iterations and is gaining momentum in Europe, and so are we. We took this timely opportunity to push out a brand new app. After lots of R&D and hacking at the new mobile HTML5 paradigm, here’s what we’ve learned.DevelopmentWe chose to develop with HTML5 instead of C#. Our reason behind this was our hope that we could leverage some of our true and tested business logic from our browser-based applications. This, in turn, should maximize quality and decrease development cycles by utilizing a large amount of common code. No company likes tribal knowledge, and this was our cure.What actually happened is that the lack of a Windows development community and a not so complete HTML5 framework forced us into an absurd amount of research and delays. Our lead Windows Phone developer, coming from a Web development background, was surprised and blindsided time and time again by missing API support, at a very fundamental level. We must have spent a good three days trying to come up with a custom calendar date picker solution because the HTML5 SDK just didn’t ship with one.A lot of companies experience GA paralysis in circumstances like this. Afterall, you should never release a half baked product. However, if Products, Development, and Marketing work together, I believe that there can be a reasonable compromise made. We cut back on scope to maintain quality for our customers, while still releasing the product on time. Quick iterations will soon follow to quickly reach parity with the rest of our mobility suite.Test Users…Where?It’s relatively hard to find passionate Windows Phone test users. There seems to be this strong consensus that most Windows Phone users are either using them because the device came with a ridiculously great deal or that they are in some way related to Microsoft and were therefore coaxed into using one. What this means is that most of the Windows Phone users had a very “meh” attitude about their user experience and expectations. The most profound responses were from our UX team, who was forced to read the Windows Phone’s usability guidelines.On Android and iOS, we would get a lot of responses like, “this is not where you put confirmation dialogs on an Android app,” or “those buttons are obviously repurposed from Android, and you put them in the iOS app.” The regular Windows Phone users were kind of just unanimously excited that we were putting out an app for their phones at all.Consequently, we had to be a bit smarter about user testing by framing our questions not really about usability in the Windows Phone environment, but about whether a particular workflow accomplishes their end goal with little or no friction. I think this is a good rule of thumb for great user testing, in general. You should detach your user from their device fanboy-dom and get them to focus on an end goal and friction (or lack thereof). You can validate and build some extraordinary apps with an incredible custom user experience.ReleaseAfter months of toiling, we are excited to release our brand new Egnyte app for Windows Phone. It has up-to-date, enterprise-level security, packaged around everyday business user functionalities - exactly what one would want on an on-the-go device. Windows Phone may not have the same fanfare as the rest of mobile industry yet, but Microsoft is no bumbler; they excel in the enterprise segment. Furthermore, any self-respecting b-school grad will tell you the importance of diversifying your portfolio to minimize your risk, while maximizing your gains. This is no different; invest heavily in iOS and Android, but don’t forget about Windows Phone/Tablet. Microsoft might seem like a high-risk investment right now, but their CEO is making big moves in mobility. Microsoft does have a record of getting whatever they want with whatever means necessary, so I recommend that you hedge your bets while you still can.We have even more exciting updates in the Egnyte mobility pipeline, so stay tuned to check them out!
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