Building apps for Windows 8, our interview with Slacker

Developing applications for Windows 8 is a new experience for many developers as the platform provides new challenges as well as opportunities for monetization and engagement. Neowin had a chance to ask Slacker, a streaming music service, several questions about their experience when it comes to developing applications for Windows 8.  Jonathan Sasse, SVP of Products and Services at Slacker Radio, took time to answer our question and his responses are below. 

For those who have not heard of Slacker, can you please give a little background on the company, as well as your role within the company?

Slacker Radio was launched in March of 2007 and I oversee Products and Radio Programming for the company.  We offer the largest selection of personalized content of any service available, ranging from a library of millions of songs to customized talk that spans comedy, news and sports.  We leverage expert curators to program and host over 200 stations that our listeners can fine tune to their own tastes and offer them the tools to create any number of their own.  There are three levels of service, the ad-supported free service, Radio Plus at $3.99/mo. which removes advertising and song-skip limits among other content and mobile benefits, and Premium Radio at $9.99/mo. which features all of the benefits of Radio Plus with the addition of being able to play songs, albums and artists on-demand as well as creating specific playlists. 

Windows 8 is an entirely new, yet slightly familiar, platform that has changed how we traditionally interact with PCs (touch friendly vs. mouse friendly); how has this affected your development strategies for Windows 8 against say, iOS, since you have to account for mouse and finger input.

As new platforms have emerged, we have continued to evaluate the way that our listeners interact with our service.  We took our first visual evolution with our Windows Phone 7 application, which not only accounted for touch and tactile interaction, but also leaning more toward visual representations of content over more traditional “lists.” This has further evolved with our Windows 8 application, as we continue to shape our experience around bringing content more to the surface, making it much more accessible as well as being more visually appealing.  Our Windows 8 application is the most tactile and visually interesting application we have produced to date.

What has it been like to work with the Metro design language and how has it influenced your work when creating applications for Windows 8? Has the dramatically different UI posed any unique challenges?

Working with the Windows 8 style design language challenged us to think differently about the way our content can be presented to our listeners.  When we took another look at our content, which typically had been the type of content that was in lists and columns (i.e. iTunes, etc.) – we looked more at the visual attributes of each type of content.  Stations, playlists, artists and albums all have visually interesting images associated with them and the idea of delivering this breadth of content in a way had more of a “magazine” analog than a “dictionary” analog created a lot of interesting ideas. The challenges here were more related to working within a platform that was already optimized for this type of interaction and adjusting our service to do the same.

When working with Windows 8, can you talk about some of your current struggles with the platform or challenges that you have had to overcome?

The biggest challenge we have had is in thinking “flat.” Legacy tendencies here are to next, bury and create long vertical lists.  With Windows 8 we had to pivot our thinking to be more horizontal and flat which has presented us some design challenges, but it has also inspired us to think differently about our content in general.  It has been a great opportunity to reimagine our experience and provided us with the canvas to do so.

Has Microsoft provided any assistance to Slacker when creating your application? If so, can you talk about this interaction and how Microsoft aided your development?

Microsoft has provided us guidance on understanding best practices with the Windows 8 style design language as well as ensures that we have the proper understanding to ensure that the experience we are creating would be familiar and accessible to users of the rest of the platform.  Clearly when you are working within a platform that has yet to arrive in the public forum, understanding all of the broad stroke design elements as well as the granular intricacies is very important.

Windows 8 provides new opportunities to developers for monetization strategies; has the Windows Store opened any new avenues for growth that you have not seen on other platforms?

One area that Slacker is very strong is the ability to integrate a wide variety of monetization options, especially as it relates to billing through partners, including mobile carriers.  Our expectation here is that the flexibility of the Windows Store will ensure that our own best-practices we have developed for monetization as well as what is needed for our business model to thrive will ensure a successful service offering on Windows 8.

Are there any other bits of information you want to share about Slacker or building applications for Windows 8?

We are excited for our new and existing listeners to try Slacker on Windows 8 as it is an exceptional experience.  Given our efforts on Windows Phone 7, along with our ongoing efforts to create an Xbox Slacker app, building the Windows 8 application has provided us with the opportunity to create a visually interesting and dynamic experience that translates nicely throughout the Microsoft ecosystem.  This is a big step forward for applications and we believe consumers will agree.

Neowin would like to thank Jonathan and Slacker for taking time to answer our question and we look forward to downloading Slacker on October 26th! 

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