Charms and the App Bar

Ok. I admit. I made a mistake in the last post about our planespotter app. I have dedicated a full part of the hub to Social. I also had a section called Friends but that made sense since I said that “Friends” is a special group of people that connect to each other through our app and only our app. Social however is sharing our spots with Twitter, Facebook and so on. Now, we could write that functionality in our app in a different section but there is one small problem with that: users don’t expect that.

Ok, I admit. The mistake was quite deliberate to give me an excuse to write this part. But still: the mistake is one I see a lot. People are trying to do stuff in their application that they shouldn’t be doing. This always strike me as slightly odd: why do some work when others have already done it for you and you can just use it? After all: good developers are lazy (lazy people will always try to find the easiest way to do something and in development land this usually means the cleanest and best to support way…)

So. What is that part that Microsoft has done for us and we don’t have to do ourselves? The answer lies on the right hand of your Win8 screen:


This is a screenshot of my tablet (as you can see I am writing this right now….) When I swipe my finger from out of the screen on the right inside the screen (or move the mouse to the upper right corner) this menu will appear. Next to settings and the start menu button we’ll find the Search and the Share charms. These are two ways that your app can share the information it contains with the rest of the world, or at least: the rest of your system. So don’t write a Search feature in your app. Don’t write a Share feature in your app. It’s here already. Users, once they are used to Windows 8, will use that feature and expect it to work. If it doesn’t, they won’t like your app and you can kiss you dreams of everlasting fame goodbye. So use these two.

What are they? Well, simply they are parts of a contract. In your app you say somewhere in code that you are supporting Search and Share. So when the user selects Share the system will interrogate the current app in the foreground if it supports this feature. Your app will say “But why, yes, I do!” Then the system will ask the app “Ok then, wisecrack, then share!” and you will have to provide the system with some information about the format.

Other applications have subscribed to be at the receiving end of the Share contract. They have told the system that they support Sharing (receiving) and which formats they understand. If one or more of them support the formats you specify, the user will see them. The user clicks / taps on the app of their choice and data is moved from your app to the new one. So if you say you support Facebook and Twitter users can post data from your app to these networks by selecting Share.

The same applies to Search. Don’t make a “search” button in your app but use the contract to tell the system that you support search and use that instead. Users will be grateful (remember that bar with men/women/creatures that are waiting for you?) The more and more people get to know Windows 8, the more they will use this. And if you are one of the people who wrote an app that helped them learn the system, well, that’s even better.

So. We don’t have a Share or a Search button. We do have other buttons. Most important: we probably need a “New Spot” button. And a “Filter” might be useful. Or someway to open the camera so you can add a picture to the spot. Where will be put those?

The answer is the “Appbar” . This is a application / context aware menu that slides up from the bottom of the screen when you move your finger / mouse from below the screen into it. From above downwards works just as well.

screen_appbarHere you see an example of the appbar from the People app. (click on it for a larger version). This appears whenever you slide your finger up from below of down from above. This is where you put your commands. Remember, this is context aware so this menu will change when you are in different parts of your app or when you have selected different items.

There are a few conventions when you create this appbar. First, the items on the right are “General” items, meaning they have little to do with what is on the screen right now. I think this would be a great place to add our “New Spot” icon. On the far left are items associated with the current selected item or screen. So if you have a spot selected, the button for Add Photo should be visible here and on the left hand side. Not everything is as clear as this, but this is what you should strive for. Group items together. And please note: this is the only place in Metro design where we are allowed to use lines as separators. So when you want to separate a group of icons from another group, add a line.

Also note the simplicity of the buttons. No colors, no lights or shadows, no 3D. After a couple of years of fancy almost realistic looking icons people have finally decided that hey, this is a virtual world: it’s ok to look virtual as well. So make things as readable and clear as possible and don’t try to duplicate nature. It’s all about the information, remember? (If you don’t remember I’d like to point you to a older blog post of mine about the what and why of Metro).

So.. think about the buttons a bit and think about Share and Search. What will you put there? Remember: this is the way the users interact with your apps and while you shouldn’t judge a book by its covers when it comes to people, this isn’t entirely so when it comes to apps. People DO judge an app by its looks and the way it feels. Take advantage of that. History has learned that a crappy app with a GREAT user interface gets better reviews than a GREAT app with a lousy UI… I know: developers will find this extremely unfair but that’s the world we live in (No, I am not saying you should deliver rubbish apps).

Next time: we’ll start by building the darn thing!

Print | posted @ Saturday, June 23, 2012 4:10 PM

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