Meet the Winners of the App Innovation Contest: Part 1

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Simon Mages and Florian Rappl, two Ph.Ds from the University of Regensburg, have won the Windows* 8 and Ultrabook™ App Innovation Contest. The competition was sponsored by the Intel® Developer Zone to foster innovation and new user experiences taking advantage of touch and sensor capabilities on Ultrabook devices running Windows 8.

Florian is from Regensburg, Germany. He started his programming career with Perl. After programming C/C++ for some years he discovered his favorite programming language C#. He did work at Siemens as a programmer until he decided to study Physics. During his studies he worked as an IT consultant for various companies. Florian is also giving lectures in C#, HTML5 with CSS3 and JavaScript, and other topics. Having graduated from University with a Master's degree in theoretical physics he is currently busy doing his PhD in the field of High Performance Computing.

In part 1 of this interview, Florian discusses the inspiration for their app and steps that he and his development partner, Simon, took to create the winning application, Sumerics. In part 2Florian discusses the marketing plans that he Simon plan to follow in order to get the word out on their winning application.

What excites you about the Ultrabook?

It combines the power of a laptop, which is capable of doing difficult work, with the fun and simplicity of a tablet. The touch screen and all the sensors can be seen as a great addition to the usual laptop.

Why did you participate in the App Innovation Contest?

The contest was an interesting opportunity to develop for the latest generation of Ultrabooks. However, my main interest was certainly to write an innovative user interface for my math parser, YAMP. The final results, Sumerics (Sensor numerics), is quite close to what I imagined.

What was the inspiration behind your winning app?

In the beginning of September I started writing a kind of "Math Parser", i.e. a simple program that is able to evaluate mathematical expressions. From the beginning I had a graphical user interface in my mind, but I feared that I would lack the required time to provide one. The contest gave me the great opportunity to build such a graphical user interface. I tried to make the user interface as fresh and innovative as possible.

What are some of the steps you took in its design?

I started by identifying the required functions of the app. I then grouped them into categories of functionality. Finally I iterated over the required functions to see if I could make the concept more touch-friendly or if I could add another interesting feature.

How was your experience developing for the Ultrabook?

My experience in developing for the Ultrabook was not so much different than developing an application for an ordinary computer. This is a great feature of the Ultrabook, since I could transfer basically all my knowledge to this platform. Comparing this with my experience of other platforms like popular ARM devices or the Chromebook, the Ultrabook definitely felt like the most appealing platform to me.

How did you take advantage of Touch and Sensors in the Ultrabook?

The idea behind my application was to enhance it with the ability of using it in a touch only mode. The app tries to avoid building barriers, which would require users to use the keyboard or mouse. By adding interesting touch features in the graphics region and by adjusting the sizes of buttons, as well as tweaking other user interface elements, it was possible to make the app accessible even for touch-only users. The sensors have been used for information purposes only. This means that one of the incentives to use the app would be to get information about the sensors.

Did you work on a team? If so what tasks were delegated? 

I worked on a 2-man team, consisting of colleague of mine and myself. The assignment of tasks was quite simple: My field of expertise is user interface and complex code. Therefore I managed the math parser and build the user interface. I also wired up the different areas of code and the overall code design. My colleague worked on the sensor API, wrote unit-tests and improved existing functions. He also developed the MathML parser, which translates drawn math expressions to actual user input.

Anything else you'd like to add? 

After having a look at the latest Ultrabooks by Samsung, Lenovo and others my impression is that those devices are not only really beautiful and innovative, but also that they provide a basis of productivity that is unmatched by tablets and ARM devices. I am hoping that customers are going to see this as well.

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