AUSTIN, TX, United States – SXSW Interactive brings all sorts of people to town, with a healthy mix of marketers, designers and even developers. This year I reached out to the team behind Rowi, a popular Twitter client for Windows Phone. Nathan Heskew is half the team behind Hidden Pineapple, the company behind the app, and I caught up with him to find out the story behind his programming background and Rowi.
Tell me about your background – what’s your day job?
I work for Microsoft, on Azure (Microsoft’s cloud service). I’m on the UX team and currently we’re working on revamping the portal. Previously I was working on Orchard, an open source resource for ASP.Net developers, but right now my focus is building a great user experience for Azure.
My background is on a Linux application stack as I started programing in Perl and MySQL and now I do JavaSript and a bit of C#. I’ve also worked on Channel 9 and that’s where I met Erik Porter – my cohort in building Rowi.
What’s it been like switching over to Windows Phone development?
It seems like a natural progression for any web programmer. If you can build an ASP.net web app, you can build a Windows Phone App.
Microsoft was also very helpful to developers such as us when Windows Phone launched. The company gave us levity in doing Windows Phone development – we have a nice arrangement where our Windows Phone apps are our Intellectual Property. We have freedom to write and monetize our apps, and Microsoft gets qualified developers populating the marketplace with awesome apps.
4th and Mayor and Lost Phone Screen are two other examples, as they’re both written by Microsoft employees.
Tell me about Rowi – how long have worked on it?
With Rowi, we started in December 2010 and released a beta in February of 2011 – version 1.0 has been in the Marketplace for about a year now. Rowi is a two-person project. Erik handles a lot of the Push Notification services whilst I work on other aspects of the app.
What made you want to do a Twitter app?
We thought the Twitter official app left a lot to be desired. Also, we figured there was a great market on Windows Phone for a Twitter app. Our original intent with our company was to do more than just Rowi, but Rowi takes up so much of our time, we’re focusing on that right now.
What advice would you have for new Windows Phone Developers?
Start with in idea that’s practical – something that’s of use to folks and something you enjoy working on. A lot of people start apps – to finish it, you need to be passionate about it!
How do you get feedback on Rowi?
We take requests on Twitter but try to shuffle requests over to email in most cases and we also use UserVoice for feature requests. In the app, we have a ‘report a bug’ feature – we get about 30-40 of those submissions per day. We try to reach out to each requester on a personal basis as much as possible.
What’s your biggest frustration with developing Rowi?
Windows Phone continues to mature – and this is good – it used to be frustrating. The biggest nag with developing Rowi is that Twitter constantly changes the API which is a huge time suck. For us, it’s hard go get time to do the app, because its a side project for both of us.
What’s next with Rowi?
Within about a month, we’re releasing version 2.0 of Rowi. It will feature a lot of bug fixes, support for image hosting support including Twitter and YFrog and improvements in how Notifications are handled.
Also – we’re doing a great new context menu that users will love (check out the screenshot).
Finally, we’re working on a cool feature in tandem with the team in Australia behind MetroTwit (the popular Windows Twitter client) called Nest. This will be a service that saves your read status of messages including direct messages and @ replies on Twitter. So your mobile phone (running Rowi) and your desktop MetroTwit clients are always in sync.
Thanks to Nathan for taking the time to speak to us and share his development experiences. Have you used Rowi? Let us know what you think in the comments below. Also, if you have any questions for Nathan, ask them in the comments and we’ll hunt him down for a response.