With the football season now underway, your Nokia Lumia smartphone can really come into its own. Forget gaming, social networks, email and all the rest, what I really want to know is how my team is getting on!
I’m not the only one either. Mark Allan is an Irish-based developer who grew up in ‘the People’s Republic of Manchester, the world capital of football.’
His software development company, Ranyart, is well on its way to developing a Windows Phone app for nearly every single professional club in Britain. Ranyart currently has around 220 of the 1stforFans apps, covering everyone from Alloa Athletic to Arsenal.
These apps offer fans a great way of following their clubs, with essential information such as live scores, news, fixtures, league tables and much, much more.
Mark hopes that they will soon expand to continental teams and also bring the apps to Nokia Asha devices, starting with the Nokia Asha 501. Conversations spoke to Mark about these future plans and a lot more besides.
What does Nokia mean to you?
Nokia as a company means a lot to me. Back in the early 90s, the company I was working for merged with Nokia Data, then the PC division of Nokia.
My team merged with the equivalent team in Finland, so I ended up with a Finnish manager and have many happy memories of trips to Espoo. But right now, Nokia means saving up for a Lumia 1020 and that gorgeous camera!
What started or inspired the Ranyart football apps?
Before Windows Phone, I had an Android phone and had looked for but failed to find a Manchester United app. There were the usual generic football apps with scores from 376 different leagues and plenty of RSS readers, but nothing that brought it all together and made me feel properly in touch with my own club.
So once I had a Windows Phone, it seemed an obvious app to build to learn the development ropes. Originally I just had it installed on my own phone, but a few friends asked if they could have it too so I put it in the Windows Phone Store and it snowballed from there. A quick shout-out here to Windows Azure, which has let me gracefully scale up from a handful of users to 200,000 API calls an hour!
Do you think you have to be a football fan to develop football apps?
I’m sure you could develop a sports app without being a fan, but I’m not sure it would be a good idea. For example, I could write apps for American Football teams, but since I don’t follow the sport I wouldn’t have a proper feel for what the fans were after and probably wouldn’t have the dedication needed to curate and maintain the data. It would end up as just another cookie-cutter data feed app.
How do you pick which club gets an app?
The data feed I’ve subscribed to contains data for most of the teams in the world (though not the minor leagues), so that’s the ultimate limiting factor, but each team needs work to pull together news feeds, blogs, video channels and so on.
I’m working through in order of familiarity, so right now I’ve got apps for pretty much all the British teams, and the next step is to translate the app so I can start moving on to teams from other countries. Eventually I’d like to cover the world, but it really depends on getting the data right first.
Have the clubs or Premier League offered you any assistance, or have there been any legal minefields?
I don’t think the apps would work as “official” apps. The point is that they’re built from a fans’ point of view and provide something of value even when clubs have an official app of their own.
Official apps tend to have a rather sterile feel – certainly you won’t find articles by fans critical of the owners or other stuff that adds a bit of colour. Of course, that does mean I have to be careful not to fall foul of trademarks or appear to be officially endorsed. I can’t use the club crest in the icon; I have to use my own brand in the app name and so on.
When are the apps coming to the Asha platform, and which devices?
I’m hoping to get the app on to the Asha 501 by the end of the year. I’m starting with the Asha 501 so I can take advantage of the new features such as push notifications, but I’ll be backporting it to older devices after that.
For the most part, I’d expect the Asha version to have feature parity with the Windows Phone version. The main difference is that the Asha doesn’t have Live Tiles so you won’t get the rolling news updates on your home screen, but an opt-in for occasional push notifications of popular articles should go some way to making up for that on the Asha 501 at least.
What are your plans for the future?
The current apps will get plenty more features and data – you’ll be able to drill down a lot further to get details of players, stats, notable stories about other teams and so on, and I’m going put more work into the matchday experience.
Also, I’ve got some ideas for some useful social features and I’ll be expanding to other countries as I sort out the data and localisation, so look out for teams from Brazil, Germany, Spain and more.
I do have a couple of ideas for completely different apps that may see the light of day at some point, one inspired by a local charity and one to make use of NFC, but between the 1st4Fans apps and the apps I write as a freelancer for other people I’ve no idea where I’ll get the time to do anything about them! You’ll be the first to hear about it if I do, though!