Since the launch of Windows Phone a lot has been touted about Cocktail Flow, a very nice looking app that constantly garners 4 to 5 stars. Hell, they even got me to buy it. (Truth be told, if your job (or reputation) depends on being able to mix that perfect drink, Mobile Bartender, while not as pretty, will do you better).
But Windows Phone and Windows 8 are not just about apps that look good. They are about getting in, getting out, and getting on with your life. And that’s achieved with Live Tiles. Not those fruity tiles that feed you images or snippets of stale information. Real live tiles, that keep you updated throughout your busy day. Package Tracker is just such an app, and one that should serve as a model for anyone seriously thinking about developing in the Windows Modern ecosystem.
Here is my criteria for a damn near perfect app:
Client for both Windows 8 and Windows Phone
Ability to login/connect to the apps without using the device default login (ie: Microsoft ID/SkyDrive device dependent)
Ability to push toast notifications across both platforms
Ability to push updates to live tiles automatically, without any interaction from the user
Effective, updatable live tiles that change as you interact with the apps
Good communication from the developer regarding updates/issues, etc.
Easy to navigate
Easy on the eyes
This, the Holy Grail for Windows apps, is what Package Tracker is all about. I am not going to go into great detail of how Packager Tracker works as you can find plenty of excellent reviews. And the apps currently sit (deservingly) at 4.5 stars in both the Windows Store and Windows Phone Marketplace. I do want to talk about what developer Sebastian Kralemann (ITECTUREConsulting) has accomplished, and how other developers can use Package Tracker as a model for their Windows apps experience.
It hasn’t always been easy keeping Package Tracker working as it should, with more than 65 finicky global carriers, who change the way they display tracking information as often as some people change their socks. As an early adopter, I have sent a handful of bug reports to Sebastian, and each time he has dealt with them in a timely manner, improving the app as a result. Sebastian always replied to my requests personally, and now he continues to do the same thing, but through the News section of his apps. Keeping us all informed of problems and changes. A very nice touch. Maintaining a push server to bring updates to users, “as they happen”, can be a costly undertaking. Some may not be willing to pay ($2.49 for WP and $2.99 for W8) for apps that give you the same info you can get for free if you choose to navigate to a carriers website, copy/paste (or type, ugg) a long tracking number, and repeat multiple times per day for each package. If so, download the trial that allows you to track up to three packages and then decide if all this information being pushed to you isn’t worth the cost of a cup of coffee.
So how would the Package Tracker apps model work for say; tasks, reminders, weather, news, hurricane tracking, etc. Damn well, if you ask me. Imagine a tasks app, that allows you to connect to any Windows device; phone, tablet, laptop, pc, provides toasts when tasks become due, and updates all their live tiles (with current/past due info) automatically, eliminating the need to open the app in many cases. Some have gotten close, very close, but always seem to fall short on one or more of the bullet points above. Or a weather app that pushes out significant weather changes, or EMERGENCY WEATHER INFORMATION to a live tile as it’s happening, rather than mundane information every 30 or 60 minutes. Or a news app that pushes out toasts AND updates their live tile when there is a news flash. All of this is possible, and more, with a bit of forward thinking, a push server, and the Windows Modern platform.
The future of Windows computing is centered around the Start Screen, both on WP and W8. Package Tracker is the first of, I hope, many Windows apps that bring information to you, rather than having you go out and look for it. Is that not worth the cost of a latte?