Little Things / Detail / Design / Musings

So as well as some cool new features I tool a little time to think about smaller details that, ordinarily as a developer rather than designer, I routinely let by.

Default Search Box Styling

I guess I was kind of aware that the colours that manifested themselves in various states of the SearchBox were out of kilter with the general ‘sepia’ theme of the overall App.

A couple of overrides in the Application file and sorted:

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Should I have those colours defined as constants somewhere? You betcha! Have I? (no).  Are there some other overrides that should be in there? (probably)

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That’’s Better, but do I need that black border? Hmmm ….

Buttons on Top Level Page

A quick edit to make the text background stack panel height 30px instead of 60px:

Before:

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After:

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Now should that text background be a transparent dark brown rather than black?

Showing someone the App on their Lenovo tablet and I spotted an issue with my home page layout and the search box:

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That’s’ Better:

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Truth is I don’t quite have the eye or the design chops…. but ….. I am getting better (and more diligent) and, in any event, am hopeful of a design makeover for this App from someone who does have the eye …. so watch this space!!

Vantage Point Apps

Just a quick post to clarify the various Vantage Point Apps that are available or currently under development:

1. Vantage Point for Windows 8.1 (available here)
2. Vantage Point for Windows Phone (release planned in March 2013
)
3. Vantage Point (Capture) for Windows Phone* (
under development)
4. History Explorer for Windows Phone (
uses some images from the Vantage Point database)

* In general I have found the Windows Phone form factor (such as my own  Lumia 920) is too small to make this app really useful  though I hope to be able to revisit this project at some point in the future.

Vantage Point (London) for Windows Phone

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The initial version of Vantage Point covers the London area.  The ‘phone form factor’ lends itself to a different default interface which automatically fades between the two images (this is also one of the options available in the main Vantage Point App once a location has been purchased).

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Tower Bridge (shown mid fade between the construction and present day images)

NB This app will be available in March 2013 and should it prove popular will be expanded to include all the Vantage Point images that are available in the full Windows 8 version)

Vantage Point (Windows 8) Download Link

History Explorer for Windows Phone

History Explorer  shows the location of a collection of historical images of Gloucester and Cheltenham, many dating back over 100 years.

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It takes it’s images from the same data pool as it’s popular bigger brother ‘Vantage Point’ for Windows 8 (and may well morph into something akin to it for Windows Phone if given enough time!)

Essentially the app was built as an exercise in using the new Microsoft/Nokia mapping technology that is in the latest platform update.  It also seemed appropriate given that most of the  older photographs date back around 100 years or so to commemorate the anniversary of the start of the Great War.

The App is free and can be downloaded here

Please post a favourable review if you enjoy it!

Live Tile Sport – Editors Choice Award

Very please to find that one of my apps achieved an editors choice award this month:

http://apps.microsoft.com/webpdp/app/live-tile-sport/c0fa3321-5ab4-417f-887d-8a59700487bb

Thank you!

 


Best Windows 8 Apps


Live Tile Sport

Get live news from your chosen sport in your Windows 8 UI!

Note this App covers a selection of popular British sports (so no Hockey, Baseball or American Football!) Features:

  • Multiple Sports Categories with associated Live Tiles
  • Choice of Live tile Layout and Content
  • Ability to remove Advertising / Purchase a full licence.
  • Control over text ayout and font sizes

Download

Live Tile Sport

Live Tile Sport

Details:

Category: Sports

Size: 0.3 MB

Age rating: 12+

Publisher: Web Surfaces

Supported processors: x86, x64, ARM

Website: Live Tile Sport website

Editor rating: 9.5 Stars (9.5 / 10)

Award:

 

ref: http://bestwindows8apps.net/live-tile-sport/

Fast App turnaround for Windows Store App!

Yesterday morning I submitted version 4 of ‘Vantage Point’ to Microsoft, last night it was in the store!!

Here are the milestones:

 

  1. Fri, 31 Jan 2014 08:00:45 – Submitted to store
  2. Fri, 31 Jan 2014 17:48:06  – App passes certification
  3. Fri, 31 Jan 2014 19:04:40 – App is in the store!

 

Congratulations to all concerned at Microsoft!

 

And yes, Vantage Point is a unique and interesting App available for free download here.

About the development of Vantage Point

As I write this I am poised to upload the fourth version of Vantage Point to the store.  This will be the first version that has started to include the feedback from the Microsoft design Lab and Intel Software Summit feedback from November 2013.  I though it might be interesting to talk about some of the reasons why the App came in to being, what has changed within the App so far, as well as plans for the future.

Changes to the UI

There have been a number of changes to vantage Point in its short lifetime.  Perhaps the most striking is the change in the top most page which came about after talking to some of Microsoft’s own designers last November.

The original top page was a simple grid of the highest level categories of images (Counties in the UK, States in the USA etc)

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Note also the (default) black background (that is me being lazy)

The main feedback I got from this related to the second Page:

It was pointed out that it wasn’t immediately obvious that there were potentially multiple ‘Towns’ per County and that a more ‘hub like’ approach that illustrated this might be a better solution.  This has resulted in the following new top level page for version 4:

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I have incorporated a ‘featured’ image that will change each time the page is visited (the Vantage Point image shown can be viewed by tapping the smaller of the two images).

Scrolling right on this page reveals the replacement layout for the original image:

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I have taken the opportunity to use different hub layouts depending on the number of ‘towns’ available within the County.

The hub layout provides a lot of opportunity for customisation and I can see it being refined as the number of areas covered grows.

Vantage Point – Creating an Image

The last thing I would want to do is put anyone off from creating their own images but before we begin, perhaps i should just say (in case anyone is in any doubt) it isn’t always as straightforward a process as you might think.  The variety of cameras in use along with the innate distortions that are included in their lenses will often present you with a challenge that goes beyond simply lining up a shot at the same spot as the originating photograph …

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I tend to treat each new image for Vantage Point as a project in its own right.  The following is a basic list of the steps I often take along with some hints and tips along the way:

1. Identification of an old image (often from an old postcard)

2. Time spent on the web attempting to establish that it may be viable to position yourself in the same spot as the original photographer (you would be surprised how often old photographs are taken from the middle of a (nowadays) busy road or from some other inaccessible position.  And so a little homework now can save you a lot of time later on.   As an example of what can happen I recently visited the Bank of England having established that a particularly nice historical shot had been taken from the steps of the building across the road from it (and that building, and those steps still exist!).  I was up early and reached the location around 7am in the morning, only to find that access to the steps was locked and they were inaccessible.  I vowed to return later in the day and made enquiries within the building only to be told that the steps are ‘only used on state occasions’ and that I would need to write to get permission. That is not untypical of the situation I have often found myself in – other times I have jumped through some hoops only to find that the position I had been targeting was simply not correct. (On this occasion I had some other old shots of the same area so it wasn’t a completely wasted journey)

3. Pre visit Geo-coding of potential locations (I often use this site)

4. Planning the visit – often times if I am travelling any distance I try and line up as many shots as I can, a little planning on a sensible route to cover all the locations can save a lot of time!  While not a requirement if you can take the current photograph at the same time of day as the original (look for a clock in your source image) then that can make the end result more pleasing as shadows and lighting conditions help to match up the two images.  It goes without saying that the time of year can also have an impact on how well the two images match.

5. Take some steps or otherwise ensure that you are able to take photographs from above the average head height.  Have a look at your originating shot – often times you will find that it has been taken from above a normal street position.  This is because postcard photographers were always very keen to limit the negative effects that perspective can have on a shot. (Hint: if there are people in your old shot do you feel like you are looking down on them or are your eyes at the same level as theirs?).  I am quite tall and have been known to hold the camera above my own head in an attempt to position the camera in the same spot as the original photographer (who may well have been on top of their own custom photographers vehicle)

(This post is a ‘work in progress’)

Cultivating Good Feedback

 

So after working on an App for several years (the content is the greater part) I got myself frazzled in an effort to reach the store before the XMAS rush.  I was later than I wanted to be but made it just in time for the holiday period.  A couple of early January revisions ensured that the App is ‘as good as it can be’ at this early stage of it’s evolution.

Feedback is always an important part of any apps initial gestation and I did the usual job of encouraging friends and family to commit their positive thoughts.  I then gave this process a little more thought before posting this review myself:

Authors Note

I want this app to be awesome! Please feedback any negative criticism to me directly at rd3d2@hotmail.co.uk. I will take your feedback on board and do my best to make future versions better! If you like the App please rate it with 5 stars – a high rating is a great motivator and will result in free upgrades to this App in the future! “”

Thanks.

 

I figure it might help reviewers realise that there is a real person behind the App, passionate about wanting to make the app as good as it can possibly be …

http://apps.microsoft.com/windows/app/vantage-point/ac78eddb-c8ba-41b2-a7e8-843147ccc0b1

Improving Windows Store Upload Success.

 

 

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“The most frustrating dialog in the world”

 

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“The slowest progress bar in history”

Not sure if I am not just documenting my frustration but here is the story so far:

Background

As a user of Windows 8 (and 8.1) I have observed that when selecting apps from the store I am often left with them in a ‘pending’ download state, with no way, or so it seems to escalate the process and use the apps.  (Other times, the apps download straight away and I will click on the notification window and use them straight away).  So when it came to packaging ‘Vantage Point’ I made the decision to package the Apps content (a large number of image files) with the App itself.  The thinking is that this will make things easier, at least in the short term, as I don’t have to worry about hosting the images online.  It also has the benefit that the App will be more responsive, and will always work offline once downloaded.  The fact that it will take longer to download initially is also not so much of an issue given the frequent ‘pending’ status of Apps as already discussed.  Great I thought, a sensible solution all round!  However at this planning stage I failed to consider the difficulty I would have in uploading the App to Microsoft every time I release a new version.  Being ‘in the sticks’ means that my Internet connection has never been the most robust and my speed/bandwidth for uploading files is, like most peoples, very limited in comparison to my download  speeds (so sayeth the BT engineer ‘oh, you can change that’, so sayeth BT ‘no you can’t!).  This resulted in frequent failures in the upload process and it would take many days (ahem, sometimes weeks) to successfully upload an App to Microsoft.

My (partial) Solution

I found I could mitigate this somewhat by splitting the App into its three constituent platform executables by selecting the option to ‘Never Generate App Bundles’ (see below).  This enabled me to upload three separate, smaller files rather than one large file (that essentially contained these three files)

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All was well, but sod’s law means that after successfully uploading the first two files this morning I was met with the following message:

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After repeating the upload and receiving the same message I came to the conclusion that I would have to rebuild the App again.

At the time of writing I am wondering if I can get away with just rebuilding the x86 version of the App or if i will need to rebuild all three parts (so that the store recognised one complete ‘version’).

I will report back my findings here once I am able to successfully upload a complete version of the App!

Jan 30 Update:

As ever with perseverance I was able to upload all three files, however, I did have particular trouble with the ARM file which was flagged as corrupted several times after completing upload (this is in spite of passing all locally run tests). 

The latest attempt to upload the 32 and 64 bit files has been successful, however the ARM, after several times being flagged as corrupt (I rebuilt each time) is now getting a new message after the upload is complete:

Validation error:   This package wasn’t built for the current version of Windows. Install the current version of Windows and build the package again.

I am continuing the rebuild/re-upload process ….

Jan 31 Update

The ARM part of the package seems to cause more issues than the others, just documenting this intermediate screen shot here as it frequently is followed by some kind of corruption message (I am also trying Chrome in case it gives me more luck!!!)

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When the above dialog finishes I am now getting :

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That makes no sense to me as I have all updates installed for all Microsoft software running under Windows 8.1?

I am now rebuilding the project on an entirely different development machine to see if that makes a difference.

(I feel that the Gods are playing with me!)