by Steph Cook

imageAddison Lee is London’s largest minicab company with more than 3,000 cars across the capital. Traditionally, booking a minicab meant a slightly frustrating phone call and then waiting a random period of time before a driver honked his horn outside your door.

Not so with Addison Lee. Their online booking system makes it easy to book a minicab on account, with a credit card or for cash and get a text message with the car’s details and again when the car arrives. And now, this service is available on Windows Phone.

The app makes it easy to make and track bookings and you can get a quotation before you book the car so you know exactly what it will cost. A live tile on the home page lets you track your car in real time. It’s a neat implementation of a classic mobile application.

Here's a short video that demo's the functionality in the app.

I recently caught up with Jon Stoneman and Steve Goldstone of Sequence, the design agency behind the app, to delve a bit deeper into their development story. 

Jon, can you tell me a little bit about the Sequence development team?

Sure. We are primarily a web agency with 17 .Net developers. 7 front-end developers. 2 UX specialist and there are 4 designers.

We have focussed on CMS based web apps but are now looking to move into mobile which started with our involvement in the Snow and Rock Pathfinder app.

We do some work on other platforms but it is limited as we are a .Net house in the main and we also believe WP provides the best platform. In my (Jon’s) experience with iPhone, the simplest task requires a shed-load of coding.

And how did you get involved with the Addison Lee app?

We were approached by Microsoft who were working with Addison Lee. They already had an app based on a complex booking system which is available on the web as well as iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Nokia platforms. Sequence were brought in to improve the user experience of the app taking advantage of the Mango features which the development team at Addison Lee had a limited knowledge of.

The whole app was designed and developed in two weeks which speaks volumes of the WP platform (and the Sequence team ;)). Our designer, Steve, was completely new to the Metro framework but was able to put together a template in two days!! The back end code was not changed but they redid the entire UI.

Steve- why do you think you were able to do that?

Largely due to the design template pack on MSDN, it has everything a designer could need. It was incredibly easy to work with.

What is different and cool about the app?

The only comparable app in the market is the Addison Lee app on other platforms and WP elevates this for end users.

The user experience is slick and much better than any other platform. WP allows unique functionality; for instance you can see your journey plotted on a map within the application and then pin this to your home page thanks to Live Tile integration.

These features were ridiculously easy to leverage on WP- the live tile is 5 lines of code??!!

In our opinion, we were able to bring a better experience and great value for the user with minimal effort in the development.

What was the development life-cycle for the app?

We were asked to take on some short notice work which we agreed to because it was such an exciting opportunity. Addison Lee put us in touch with their lead developers, Haulmont Technology, based in Russia who sent us a copy of the back-end code.

From this we were able to put together some initial designs and build a prototype app. We then worked with Haulmont on a daily basis to refine and perfect.

The only sticking point was in the latter stage testing of the app itself when we were asked to change an element of the design which we felt was important to keep. The support team were very flexible in their approach and happy to listen to our case and come to a compromise.

So Steve, did you find the framework restrictive in any way?

No, in fact, I think it allows you to be very creative. Plus it is exciting because the platform is so different from anything else out there.

Do you feel the design reflects the Addison Lee brand?

Very much so. Metro lets the brand shine through due to the big visuals with the Panorama feature which we took advantage of.

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Do you have a design tip for other developers?

Make sure your content is ready and design with this in mind. The Metro framework focuses on content and it is important to understand this at the beginning.

How did you use the mapping?

We integrated with Bing maps on the home panorama screen using their static image generation service. If you click further into the details of your booking there is a large Bing maps control which is fully interactive and gives vehicle location. This is a standard out of the box control and very easy to achieve.

Technically, was there anything else that the platform enabled you to achieve easily?

Yes, the interaction with the backend web services was effortless thanks to the Service References and JSON serialisation available within .NET.

Do you have any plans for future versions of the app?

We would like to take a version 2 to market which will further improve the UI. Obviously we will be monitoring the user feedback as this arrives and using this to shape future work.

Does Sequence have any future plans involving the WP platform?

Absolutely. Strategically we want to get into mobile across all major platforms and WP is a big part of this as it is, in our opinion, the best framework.

Thanks Jon and Steve. If you fancy developing a Windows Phone app, get the free tools here.

236Steph Cook
DPE Partner Team, Microsoft
Steph works in the DPE Partner team and can usually be found with her head buried in a CRM system. However she also likes to take time out to chat with our fantastic Windows Phone customers and agencies.