Q&A with Jason Webb, Managing Director, Xpreshon
Q: What is the background on Xpreshon, where did you get the idea for a combined sports and entertainment app?
A: It was an idea that came from a few people who had been stuck in the corporate world working long hours but had a strong passion for action sports. We dreamed of doing something that was an expression, if you excuse the pun, of ourselves and our creativity outside the corporate space. After a few little experiments, the Xpreshon app was the result. We have drawn upon on our passion for surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, motocross and built an action sports news, information and entertainment portal that seeks to capture the very heart and passion of these sports. We’ve been developing the idea for about 18 months now.
Q: Why did you create an app for Windows 8 over other platforms? What did you see as the main opportunity?
A: To be completely transparent, our initial goal was to launch Xpreshon on the Xbox platform. Given the demographic that we were targeting, we had sought to try and reach them in a space where they hadn’t been reached before. We saw the Xbox Live platform as being something that had been untapped in this space. We made approaches to the Xbox team, and as a part of peeling back the layers to make our way on to the invitation only platform, we identified the benefit of being on the full suite of Microsoft platforms. We want to be on all of the Microsoft platforms including Windows Phone, however that will be rolled early to mid-next year. We see the future in the Microsoft platforms as being very strong and want to be right at the forefront of it all.
Q: Why did you choose the sports category? Did you see a definite gap in the market for the kind of app you were creating?
A: Well I think there is and there isn’t. Action sports news and entertainment content is predominantly found in single channels, such as a surf website or a skateboarding app. However there are not very many content providers that provide news, information and entertainment across the range of actions sports. Our early market research uncovered that the crossover between participants in these action sports is far greater than I think a lot of people realise in terms of snowboarders who also surf and skateboarders who also snowboard and that sort of thing. We saw a real gap in the market in terms of being able to offer the full range of news, information and entertainment content across the range of sports together in the one place, as a one-stop news and entertainment portal for users to absorb all that information without having to look in various places.
Q: How easy was the process of creating and designing an app for the Windows 8 platform?
A: Microsoft partner, Object Consulting, were very much involved at every step of the project and I have to say that the project was considerably easier because of their involvement. Their specialist development team worked together with us at every stage of the project and the depth of their experience and knowledge have really helped to bring Xpreshon to life. Thankfully, Windows 8 also provides an excellent framework for us to build an app on top of and in particular it provides a set of rules that are pretty much pre-defined. It outlines how an app is supposed to look and how it’s supposed to behave, so that gave us a great starting point. Windows 8 is like pretty much anything that Microsoft builds in terms of a platform, it’s very well fleshed out and capable.
Q: What did you take advantage of in the Windows 8 interface?
A: We supported everything that Windows 8 provides by way of its new user interface constructs. All of the charms and the charms bar, so sharing with other applications, integration with Windows 8 search, and so on are all built in there and we used semantic zooming and the snap view. We also used landscape and portrait views so that people can read articles in portrait view whilst watching videos in landscape. So we’ve tried to make the best use that we could of all the different user interface constructs provided by Windows 8.
Q: How easy was the portability from the Xbox platform to the Windows 8 platform?
A: The Xbox 360 provides some degree of portability with Windows 8, and with Xbox One will be much better. But with Xbox 360 we get some degree of portability, so a fair bit of code came over, a lot of the user interface design, assets and graphics and so on. Importantly Windows 8 and Xbox use the same media player framework, which means that the videos that play in Windows 8 automatically play in Xbox and that made things a lot easier for us.
Q: Touching on the lifecycle of the product, how often do you change the features of the app to reflect the demand of the consumers?
A: We have an ongoing news feed which we expect to have for each of the sports which features approximately 10 different news articles each day, so that could be up to 40 or so news articles daily across the range of sports. In addition to this we have athlete information, a back catalogue of hundreds of movies and short videos with news ones being added each week. All of this content will be monitored each day and approved for their appropriateness by our full time content manager before being released. With this edgy kind of culture we need to be mindful and make sure that it’s suitable for our brand, but also suitable for the audience and platform on which we’re hosting it all.
Q: What does the app use at its back end? Does the app use Microsoft Azure?
A: It does, it uses just about all of Microsoft Azure at the back end. It uses the part of the application that handles things like membership and subscriptions and payments. The streaming of the video on demand content is also driven by Azure Media Services. All of the video content is stored on Azure for streaming from the Azure platform. So it could not be any more Microsoft at the back end. We found that to be a very convenient way of working, because the platform is highly capable of course and very efficient to build applications on, but also it’s very synergistic with working with Windows 8.
Q: There’s a plan to roll out on the Windows phone platform early next year?
A: Yes, our development roadmap has this project due to start early to mid-next year. We envisage that this will be a straightforward process given the synergy between Windows 8 and Windows phone 8.
Q: Are there any plans on updating the app to take advantage of the Windows 8.1 features?
A: We have already started the discussions with the Windows team about implementing Windows 8.1 capabilities. They’ve had a look at the Xpreshon App and made their recommendations on what minor tweaks we could make so that’s all planned and ready to go. We will concentrate on our launch for now because we’ve got a month or two until 8.1 comes out – but we will be ready for that when it happens.
Q: Is there any plans to put the app on competing platforms, IOS and Android or are you going to exclusively work on Windows, Windows phone 8 and Xbox?
A: Our team has really seen the strength in the Microsoft platform and our focus for the short to medium term is to be exclusively on Microsoft platforms. We acknowledge that there may be significant audiences in other spaces, but for us this is our focus. As we grow and the business model evolves, that is certainly something that we will consider, but we believe that Xpreshon is well positioned on Microsoft platforms at this stage.