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November 19, 2014

Developer Matthew Carlson’s ‘touchable’ email app relies on Windows 8.1; creates a superior user experience

TouchMail leverages gestures, visuals, and the power of touch in its innovative email app that makes it possible to find and organize email faster than ever before. Co-founder and CEO Matthew Carlson along with CTO / Co-founder Alex Frank built TouchMail for Windows 8 and easily transitioned to 8.1. Their usage data revealed that developing for Windows 8.1 was a far better investment, and since then all new features are built exclusively for the updated platform. I recently caught up with Carlson, and he shared the company’s plans to use Windows 8.1 to scale their innovation and investment.

What excites you the most about Windows 8.1?

Building for Windows 8.1 means we can reach people who use traditional PC devices such as desktops and notebooks with keyboards and mice while still positioning ourselves at the forefront of “productivity tablets” such as the Surface Pro that utilize touch.

As a developer, I like that it is easy to get started if you are familiar with .NET, XAML, HTML5, or even WPF and Silverlight. And powerful tools like Visual Studio and resources like MSDN are a great launch pad for any developer.   Windows 8.1’s auto-upgrade support is also helpful because users are far more likely to be on the latest version and to get our new features and bug fixes as soon as we push them. It’s a lot easier to support users when you know they’re using the latest version.

Our first version of TouchMail was for Windows 8.0, but it worked well on Windows 8.1 too. Then, we built for both 8.0 and 8.1, but once we saw usage statistics, they confirmed that developing for 8.1 was a better investment (95% of new users were on Windows 8.1). We now release new features only for 8.1. The market share for both versions was similar, but our 8.1 users gave better reviews, downloaded more, were more active, and had fewer support issues.

Touchmail screenshot
TouchMail screenshot

As the Windows 8.1 Store’s popularity grows, so do our download rates. In fact, more than half of our users have added multiple accounts.

We’re working on a mobile version now, and we like the efficiency that comes with a converged developer platform and consistent APIs.

Since most Windows apps use a consistent design, it’s easy for users to try new apps and figure out how they work based on other apps they’ve used. They can quickly find charms, the app bar , search, Live Tile, and so on.

What Windows Phone 8.1 features do you intend to leverage to make TouchMail even more successful?

We help busy people become more productive on all the devices they use to manage their email. TouchMail is the first email app designed for touch PCs. Our multi-dimensional message layout is better than a list because it can more fully utilize the screen real estate. Pinching in and zooming out lets users decide the number of messages to see at a time, and they can easily delete messages in a single touch without opening them.

TouchMail uses and extends the Windows design language in a way that is integral to the app’s core functionality – visualizing email data with fast touch gestures to quickly find, organize and delete email. Windows 8.1’s integration with sharing apps (OneDrive, Dropbox, OneNote, etc.), snapping to the side, and navigating via gestures all help make TouchMail a killer productivity app.

Touchmail screenshot
TouchMail screenshot

We’ve also started using the Windows roaming profile and Azure Mobile Services to store data that helps us customize each user’s experience without having to manage that service on our own. And People Hub lets users personalize TouchMail with their profile pictures and information without making the user re-enter it.

In our next release, we’ll use background execution and triggers as a way to give users a sneak peek at their inboxes before they ever hit the Start menu. And, we’ll notify them about new messages even when they’re using other apps.

Finally, Windows Store has built-in billing tools, so monetizing our app will be much easier than on other platforms, and we can focus on building the software.

TouchMail screenshot
TouchMail screenshot

What is your advice to developers?

It’s important to watch performance at usage levels your users might reach. We are all heavy email users, but we still need to monitor those users who might get extremely high volumes of mail. And most developers have high-performance machines, so you need to be mindful of your users who work on lower-end devices, including Windows RT.

LINQ has made us much more productive. It helps us to plan our scenarios ahead of time and structure our data efficiently, taking into account schema changes that may impact existing users. And by using Tasks to plan ahead, asynchronous development is easier too.

I recommend developers use Visual Studio and a central bug database such as TFS. Even on a small team, relying on email and meeting notes means you lose track of important ideas, so store things away in a central place so you’ll be able to find them in the future. Finally, leverage the Windows Store app templates as they provide a lot of structure to help you get started quickly.

Video Demo: