echoecho finally eats an azure coated mango…

Well we took our sweet time. But we finally got a WP7 version of echoecho out there. And if the early usage and reviews are any indication at all we’ve done an excellent job. (Our average is 5 stars (yes yes out of 5) across the world.

Here’s the main inbox above – and of course the map below:

But – it pays to rewind the story a little bit here.
A couple of months back I met Microsoft executive Claire Lee at a Silicon Valley networking event (Michelle Gonzales’ influencer series). While we were both listening to Jay Adelson enthuse about the future of social networking, Claire and I exchanged notes and gossip about mobile geolocation, privacy, VCs, signal-to-noise, overvalued and undervalued CEOs in the valley and so forth.
Of course I told her about echoecho – and did my usual spiel – and of course she whipped out a WP7 phone and said “Hey what about this one – why doesn’t it run on this phone?”

And I had what I thought was an easy response – it went something like this

“Aha – well we can’t do that. Because WP7 doesn’t support the kind of features that we need, we don’t have any experience in Silverlight therefore it would be a total pain to port etc etc…”

And I thought that was it – but boy was I wrong.
A few emails later Claire had roped in a few people in the extended Bizspark family (including Reza Alizadeh and Aaron Stannard) and after taking the time to sit down and talk through the app on iOS and Android – Reza and Aaron started breaking down my defenses.

What we thought wasn’t previously possible (for example direct access to address book numbers) turned out to be very possible in the most recent update of WP7.

To be honest we finally started playing with some WP7 handsets and the elegant and clean UI lines made a huge difference. Frankly – coming from a company that’s not known for producing compelling user experiences – this was a pleasant surprise. (my favorite is actually the panorama UI element on a portrait screen – where a small element of the NEXT screen is revealed prior to a swipe – see our unique take on this below)

The funny thing about this is that it has clearly influenced UI/UX design on other platforms including Android and iOS (see the latest Facebook and Path mobile apps as an example) – but of course almost nobody sees fit to mention this. It will be interested to see if WP7 manages to gain any traction in the mobile space in the coming months.

In any case – using a number of different tools (from Photoshop templates to design guidelines to errrm….our heads) we mango-fied the application.
Note to future developers who do this – don’t port an iphone UI and force other platforms to match. This approach doesn’t even work on Android – which in theory matches iphone the most closely. Subtlety is everything here – but even the way a standard dialog box or input box control works is different from platform to platform.
It took a bit of thinking – because certain things WP7 Mango have no functional or aesthetic equivalent in other mobile O/Ses – but fairly soon we were ready to rapidly code and deploy.

Now as for the Azure mentions in the header of this post – You see our back-end was originally on SQL Server. While that might not ring a trendy chord with the hipster NoSQL MongoDB crowd – .net is quick to develop for – and was what our original API was designed in.

However – as stable as it is – we were already feeling the strain under load – and we wanted to have the additional stability and performance boost capacity when necessary – and this meant moving our .net architecture into the cloud. We obviously had the choice of a hosted server solution but then we discovered SQL Azure.

The way we did this – learning as we went along – was to migrate small test databases and mini applications first…and by playing figure out how to make Azure do what we wanted.
Eventually we moved the database in one fell swoop (and yes MSFT – there should still be better and faster tools for doing this. Copying large databases line by line to Azure is NOT the most efficient way)
Finally we had to move the application. It felt scary to push the button to finally make the echoecho api and application live on Azure – but in the end it just…worked.

Now the MSFT guys will be the first to tell you that the maturity of tools available on SQL Azure do not YET rival the desktop tools. There are some things you can’t do because you shouldn’t… (cloud architecture requires rethinking certain types of data structures). But there are other things you should be able to do but can’t because they haven’t yet been built.

Regardless ;) – we got through it.

So now we have another platform under our belt and by many accounts one of the best apps on WP7 made so far.

But…you ain’t seen nothing yet ;)

Microsoft wrote a piece about us on Bizspark

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