The whole contest started off as a bit of a joke. Ben Lower, senior product manager of the Windows Phone Developer Experience at Redmond Wash.-based Microsoft, who also writes for the Windows Phone developer blog, was talking with the team in charge of a new set of tools set to launch alongside the newest Windows Phone 7 OS, Mango.
The set of tools, code-named oddly Hawaii, or the Hawaii Services, was ready for testing and Microsoft was trying to figure out a way to both spur development and get the tools into the hands of some young programmers.
Eventually Lower said, “‘hey, let’s do a contest with our summer interns and see what crazy things they’ll dream up and create using both Hawaii Services and Mango… and since they’re code-named Hawaii Services, why don’t we give away a trip to Hawaii.”
Lower said there wasn’t much more discussion as they loved the idea and the Hawaii Intern XAPfest was set into motion, a contest that gave any Microsoft summer intern the tools to design a Windows Phone 7 app utilizing some of its newest features.
Andrei Borodin was an intern at the Mississauga Ont.-based Microsoft Canada this summer and his Music Cloud 7 (MC7) app placed in the top 8 of all entries.
“I was an intern at Microsoft this summer and they said ‘there’s a contest for Windows Phone 7 apps on the new Mango features’, I looked at the available features and realized that the app I wanted to write since February was possible so I decided to get in.”
Borodin, Russian-born but who grew up in Canada, is a student at U of T and spent his summer working for Microsoft. He coded MC7 in his spare time.
The idea for the app, which enables the host device to takeover multiple other devices speakers and simultaneously stream a track through all of them, was born out of a conversation Borodin had with friends on U of T campus.
“We were standing outside of Bahen building at U of T and I was just talking to a friend and wanted him to hear one song. So I pull out my phone, find it and play it (but) it’s a bit quiet, and there were a few people around it, so I said ‘hold on, let me borrow your phone’, and I found the song (on his phone) and tried to sync it manually.”
Obviously, this wasn’t the most elegant solution, but it did inspire him to look into building that functionality into his own app. However, at the time, he didn’t have the resources to do so. Once the contest was announced, Borodin knew exactly what he wanted to do.
“You can imagine if you have 9 phones in a small room or you have a house party with 20 people all with phones, it’s actually pretty loud.” He also said it would be handy if you were at the beach, or having a picnic, and didn’t want to bring an awkward and superfluous set of speakers with you.
Not only that, but Borodin realized that MC7 had business applications as well. “If you imagine sitting in a big conference room and you’re a bit far from the speaker, if you have your smart phone on you, the software enables it to just join in and listen through your phone. If you have to ask a question, there’s no longer a need for a mic.”
Using Windows Phone 7 and MC7, Borodin thinks he can eventually streamline some of the bumps out of school lectures or large business meetings. Not only that, but because “it’s not done through the internet, it’s done on the local Wi-Fi, it would be easier and better quality,” Borodin said. He also said the finished product would allow for easy recording of any lecture or meeting.
While some of the features of MC7 weren’t ready to demo when he presented at the contest finale, like the ‘send’ feature that allows you to answer a question from your phone, he isn’t finished working on it yet.
Lower said that the contest was specifically designed so that interns would retain ownership of their apps and have the ability to release and sell them after the contest ended. This has allowed Borodin to continue working to finalize MC7 using the free tools and demo Windows Phone he received during the contest.
Borodin’s aspirations for the app, however, lie more in a social experience than profit. His vision for how the app will eventually be used is a sort of music flash-mob where an entire square is suddenly filled with a DJ set streaming simultaneously over hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny speakers.
This isn’t a reality just yet, but he’s optimistic that he will see it happen after more testing and refinement.