Designing Windows Phone 8
We sat down with Albert Shum, the general manager of Windows Phone studio design at Microsoft, to find out how the OS was designed
NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION
One of the things Windows Phone 8 introduced was support for screens up to 1,280x720 (720p). Adding resolutions can cause issues with carefully laid-out and designed apps, but Microsoft was keen to avoid that pain for its developers.
"There was a lot of work at our end to support higher resolutions," said Shum. "We made Windows Phone 8 scalable. Developers just have to recompile to use higher resolutions. For users, it automatically picks the right resolution when the app's downloaded."
A COHESIVE INTERFACE
What's been clear since Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7 is the company's desire to make its products look and feel the same, rather than having disparate interfaces. It's something that the company has had to learn, as Shum explained.
"We now have one set of design principles across the whole of Microsoft," said Shum. "It's something that we didn't have before."
This change in design philosophy is something that can clearly be seen, from the prevalence of the Live Tile interface in Windows Phone, Xbox 360 and Windows 8's Start Screen.
Windows 8 now uses a similar Live Tile interface to Windows Phone
Using all three products, the same design cues make it obvious that they're all from the same company. It's much more cohesive that the disparate range of interfaces that used to be on show. While the single set of design principles is useful, Shum told us it was teamwork that puts it all together.
"We work with the Windows, Xbox and Office teams," said Shum. "We've made it feel like a family of products."
While the Live Tile interface may have originated on Windows Phone, the other products getting it has had its benefits, with ideas flowing both ways. As Shum explained, it let him use ideas from other parts of the company to improve Windows Phone 8: "I went round the building looking at what other people were doing and said, 'Hey, what's cool?'"
Microsoft's UI designs have become a lot more cohesive across Windows 8, Xbox and Windows Phone 8
THE BEST BITS
Finally, we asked Shum what his favourite bit of the new OS is.
"The best thing is about solving problems we know people have, such as Kid Zone," said Shum.
Kid Zone is the safe part of the phone where you can set which apps your kids can use, while locking off the rest of the phone to prevent them making phone calls, sending messages or deleting data or apps. As to how this came about, Shum explained that Microsoft "talked to a lot of people about their phones. When you start doing this you bring up a whole bunch of stuff."
It was this ethos of making the phone more personal, solving problems that people have when they use their handsets that Microsoft has put into the new OS.
Windows Phone 8 is out now and we'll have full reviews of the handsets soon.