Design case study: iPad to Windows Runtime app

iOS is a popular platform for creating apps that are touch first, fun, and engaging. With the introduction of Windows 8, designers and developers have a new platform to unleash their creativity.

In this case study we want to help designers and developers who are familiar with iOS to reimagine their apps using the design principles for Windows Store apps. We show you how to translate common user interface and experience patterns found in iPad apps to Windows 8 Windows Store apps. We draw on our experience building the same app for the iPad and for Windows 8. We use common design and development scenarios to show how to leverage the Windows 8 platform and incorporate the design principles for Windows Store apps.

To learn more about the business opportunity of Windows 8, see Selling apps. For more info about the features used to build Windows Store apps, see the Windows 8 Product Guide for Developers.

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The app

The app we are developing is a connected photo journal where users can view and manage their photos and videos online using a timeline view.

The Photo journal Windows Store app.

The app was first created for the iPad. The next figure shows the anatomy of the iPad app. Let's now see how each component translates to the Microsoft design language.

The Photo journal iPad app.

1. Layout and navigation
2. Commands and actions
3. Contracts: search, share, and others
4. Touch
5. Orientation and views
6. Notifications

Layout and navigation

Focus on content, not chrome

The Photo journal app needs to be great at showing user's photos and recent social activities for those photos. When creating the Windows Store app, our first goal was to remove all UI elements that were not directly relevant to the core functionality of the app. For example, the top navigation bar, pagination controls, and the bottom control bar can all be removed. In the next section, we talk about how users can bring up chrome when needed using the app bar.

iPad app user interface elements.Windows Store app user interface elements.

iPad app

A. Top navigation bar
B. App content
C. Pagination UI
D. Bottom tab bar

Windows Store app

B. App content and logo


Example: timeline view on the home screen

Both apps show photos on their home screens organized by month, but how the month is represented is quite different. In the iPad version of Photo journal, the page is optimized to display all 12 months in a year with a stacked photo metaphor used to represent each month. When designing the Windows Store app home screen, we chose to bring more pictures and social content to the top level, to provide users more context. We removed borders from the pictures and instead used whitespace to provide more visual focus to the photos, which are the focal point of the app.

Month view in the iPad app.Month view in the Windows Store app.

iPad: each month is represented by stacked photos with only one photo visible.

Windows Store app: each month is represented by multiple photos, their titles, and the number of comments associated with the photos. Users can see more highlighted content for a month on the home screen.


Flatten the navigation hierarchy

We used the hierarchical navigation pattern in the Windows Store app design. When redesigning the app, we flattened the navigation hierarchy so more content is accessible via the app's hub screen, eliminating the need for navigation.

Example: removing bottom tab bar

View states in the iPad app.Comments view in the iPad app.

iPad app

A. Photos view
B. Comments view

The bottom tab bar with two pivots (photos and comments) is always on screen. Users can see one view or the other.

View states in the Windows Store app.

Windows Store app

  • We combined the comment and photos in one view to eliminate the need for a tabbed user interface.
  • The hub design for the home screen reveals the most relevant content for each section.
  • To see the entire list of comments, users can tap on the group header labeled Recent comments.


Use direct manipulation to navigate

Direct manipulation allows users to interact with content and navigate to different areas naturally. When designing the Windows Store app, we used direct manipulation whenever possible, using built-in controls like Semantic Zoom, which lets users navigate more efficiently.

Navigation in the iPad app.

Navigation in the iPad app.

Navigating the Windows Store app.

Using semantic zoom to select from groups of data.

iPad app

On the home screen, tap on the Years button on the top navigation bar to bring up a popover and select a year.

Windows Store app

On the home screen, pinch two fingers to zoom out and see all the months and years. This way users can jump to any month in any year quickly. Users can also see an overview of which months have photos and which don't (faded red background). Users can navigate entirely by manipulating the content without using chrome or navigating to a different page.


For help choosing the best navigation pattern for your app, see Navigation patterns.

See the Flat navigation pattern in action as part of our App features, start to finish series.

Commands and actions

Keep app contextual actions in the app bar

When redesigning contextual actions or commands in the app, we again followed the "content before chrome" approach and made all contextual actions available via the app bar control. Frequently used commands are near the right and left edges so that they are easy to reach by hand. This way the app design surface isn't cluttered with controls, and no matter where a user is, they can swipe the app bar from the bottom or top of the screen to see relevant actions. All Windows Store apps can use the app bar for their commands. Because users will be familiar with app bar interactions, it also increases the usability of our app and makes the whole system feel cohesive.

Example: deleting photos

Deleting photos in the iPad app.Deleting photos in the Windows Store app.

iPad app

  • App commands are on the top of the screen when a user enters the selection mode.

Windows Store app

A. The app bar is hidden by default to provide users the immersive experience. A user can swipe from the bottom or top of the screen to open the app bar.
B. When a user selects objects on the page, contextual actions for the selected items appear on the bar. The actions change depending on whether there are objects selected and where the user is in the app. Global commands are usually placed on the right side of the app bar. Commands that come and go should be placed on the left side of the app bar.



Use Search contract to centralize the search experience

Instead of creating a search input interface that is permanently part of the app canvas, we implemented the search contract. Users can consistently invoke Search through the charms, and the results can be presented in the app in a way that is natural for the content. By using the Search contract, users can invoke the Search charm from anywhere in the system to look for content from apps that support the contract.

Example: searching a photo within the Photo journal app

Searching in the iPad app.The search contract in the Windows Store app.

iPad app

  • Search is available within the app on the home screen.
  • When a user types a search term, results start to appear and the user can select a result.

Windows Store app

  • The user opens the charm bar and accesses the Search charm. The Photo journal app is selected by default because the user is currently inside the app.
  • When the user starts typing, the app supplies search suggestions to the pane. This way users can quickly see which terms will generate search results. After the user submits their query, they see a search results view and select the result they want.


Example: searching for a photo outside of the Photo journal app (available only in Windows Store apps)

This example shows how to search for a term across different apps by choosing a new app via the search pane. This functionality allows users to search for any piece of content, in any app, at anytime.

Searching outside of the Photo journal app.

Windows Store app

A user searches for the term "Barcelona" in the Tweet@Rama app and wants to look at photos of Barcelona using Photo journal. Photo journal is now the search results provider. The app launches automatically and displays the search results. The user doesn't need to launch the Photo journal app and then perform the search.


Use the Share contract to reach more destinations and people you care about

Social media integration is a key component of most apps. When designing iPad apps, designers and developers generally choose which social media channels the app supports (such as Twitter or Facebook) and then the developers must integrate each of these services individually, or use one of the available frameworks. When there are API changes to these sharing services, developers must update their code for the sharing services to continue to work.

When translating the sharing capability into the Windows Store app, we used the system's Share contract. This contract simplifies design and development because there is no need to connect with every service that a user might want to use. In addition to social networks, users can also save content to other services, such as a note taking app like Notespace or EverNote. Using just a small amount of code, our app becomes connected with every Windows Store app that has implemented the Share contract. There's no need to deal with API changes to external social networking sites or web services. From the user's perspective, they can always share from a consistent location by accessing the charms and opening the Share pane.

Example: sharing a photo in Photo journal with another app

Sharing a photo in the iPad app.


To share a photo from the iPad Photo journal app, a user first taps the action button from the top navigation bar and then chooses to share on Facebook. The developer needs to do additional work and add more share buttons if they want to integrate with other social networking services later.

The share workflow in the Windows Store app.
Choosing a share target in the Windows Store app.

Windows Store app

  • Users can always find share options in a consistent location, regardless of which app they're using.
  • Any installed app that has been designated a share target appears in the app list in the Share pane. For example, Socialite, Tweet@Rama, Notespace, PaintPlay, are all share targets.
  • Users can share a variety of content types. For example, users can share links, photos, or save info to a note-taking app.
  • The most frequently used share targets are displayed at the top of the list to help users complete tasks quickly.


In addition to being a share source, we designed our Photo journal app to be a share target too. Users can easily share photos from another app to their photo streams in Photo journal. This connection is also enabled by the Share contract. See Guidelines and checklist for sharing content for more info about which apps make great share targets.

Example: sharing photos from another app with Photo journal – share target (available only in Windows Store apps)

In this example, a user in another photo app looks at photos from a trip to Mexico. They want to share the photos from the album with their own Photo journal app collection so that it is easier for them to view these photos in a timeline view. As the user opens the Share pane, they see that the Photo journal app is listed as one of the Share targets and then invokes the Share workflow.

Sharing photos from another app with Photo journal.


Use file picker to access files from various locations

File picker is a full screen dialog that lets users access files and folders located on the local PC, connected storage devices, or a HomeGroup. It can also access items from apps that participate in the file picker contract.

Example: uploading a photo from the local file system

Accessing photos from the file system and social media sites in the iPad app.

iPad app

The iPad app supports accessing photos in the local photo library and a couple of social networking services.

Accessing the file picker UI in the Windows Store app.

Windows Store app

A. The user taps the Upload button in the app bar and the file picker UI opens. This is a consistent UI surface that the user sees whenever they want to access files.
B. Tapping the Files header, the user sees a flyout of all available file locations and navigates to a file folder.
C. The user selects multiple photos from the folder and a list of thumbnails at the bottom left showing the selected photos.


Example: using a photo from Photo journal in another app (available only in Windows Store apps)

We also take advantage of a feature that's unique to Windows Store apps and add support for picking photo content from Photo journal within another app. This saves users the step of first downloading photos from Photo journal to the local file system and then uploading the photos to another app. Photo journal implements the file picker contract so the system recognizes it as a file storage location.

Using content from Photo journal in another app.

Windows Store app

A user is on the PC Settings screen and taps Browse to customize their account photo. Because Photo journal implements the file picker contract, the user can see that the app is available to access in the file directory. The user can then select a photo stored in their Photo journal collection.



Edge swiping for app and system commands

Using Windows 8, a user can swipe from edges to access commands and navigate between apps.

  • App commands are revealed by swiping from the bottom or top edge of the screen. The app bar should always be used to display app commands.
  • Swiping from the right edge of the screen reveals the charms that contain system commands.
  • Swiping from the left edge switches to previously used apps.
  • Swiping from the top edge toward the bottom edge of the screen lets you dock or close apps.

Example: accessing the app bar and the charms in a Windows Store app

Accessing the app bar in the Windows Store app.Accessing charms in the Windows Store app.

Swipe from the bottom or top edge of the screen to access app commands.

Swipe from the right edge of the screen to reveal the charms that contain system commands - Search, Share, Start, Devices, and Settings.


Cross-slide to select objects

With Windows 8, a user can slide their finger a short distance, perpendicular to the panning direction, to select an object in a list or a grid. When objects are selected, the app bar is revealed, automatically showing relevant commands.

Example: selecting multiple photos to delete

Selecting multiple photos in the iPad app.Selecting multiple photos in the Windows Store app.

iPad app

  • Users enter a specific edit mode to perform the selection action and other edit actions. This is because tap is reserved for primary actions such as launch.
  • Users exit the edit mode when they are done.

Windows Store app

  • Users swipe down on the object to select and the app bar shows up automatically with contextually relevant commands.
  • Users can perform both tap and selection on an object without entering and exiting another mode.
  • This gesture is reversible, which makes selection a lot more efficient in Windows 8 apps.


Pinch and stretch to semantic zoom

While the pinch and stretch gestures are commonly used for resizing in both iPad and Windows Store apps, in Windows 8 they also enable jumping to the beginning, end, or anywhere within content using Semantic Zoom. Semantic zoom enables the user to zoom out to see data in related groups and provides a quick way to dive back in. Instead of providing navigation for reviewing long lists of content, use semantic zoom when possible for this type of interaction. Of course, when a user is viewing a photo in full screen mode, pinch and stretch can be used for optical zoom.

Example: semantic zoom on home screen and on a month spoke page

Using semantic zoom in the Windows Store app.

Windows Store app

A. Semantic zoom on the home screen lets users jump to a particular month in any year quickly.
B. Semantic zoom on a month view spoke page lets users jump to a particular day and also provides an info graphic detailing how many photos are available from that year.


Orientation and screen size

Design a layout that adapts

An iPad app has a fixed screen size and resolution with two orientations that designers need to consider. Windows 8 runs on various form factors, from portable tablets to all-in-one desktops. As a result, you can use additional screen space to show users more content. When redesigning the Photo journal app, we considered how the app would look in two device orientations, taking into account screen resolutions and device sizes. The grid layout makes it easy to scale the design for both portrait layout and high resolution screens. For example, we include more highlighted photos in each month when there is more vertical space available.

Example: home screen design in landscape, portrait and large screens (Windows Store app only)

The iPad app in landscape and portrait mode.

iPad app

The same content is shown in both landscape and portrait layout. The content reflows in portrait orientation.

The Windows Store app in multiple view modes and resolutions.

Windows Store app

The app shows more content in each section on the hub page in portrait layout and larger screens, using extra space. Similar to creating images for an iOS retina display, we created multiple images for different Windows scaling percentages-- 100%, 140% and 180%. These images are loaded automatically on HD tablets.


Use narrow widths to engage your users

Windows 8 lets users multitask by placing multiple apps next to each other on the screen. Designing your app to work well at narrow widths is a great way to increase the app's time on screen and engage users for longer periods. It's easy for a user to change the app size by manipulating the divider between two apps, so it is important to maintain context across resizes. We don't want users to lose app state as a result of resizing their app.

For more info about resizing, see Guidelines for windows sizes and scaling to screens and Guidelines for resizing windows to tall and narrow layouts.

Example: home screen at narrow width

The Windows Store app at a narrow width

Windows Store app

  • When the home screen is resized to a narrow width, a user can still access the same content.
  • In a tall, narrow size, a user pans vertically to get to more content because it is more comfortable to pan along the long edge. This is different from the horizontal panning in full view, which is also optimized to pan along the long edge.



Use tiles for persistent and dynamic updates

iOS 5 introduced a notification center where new notifications appear quickly on the top of the screen and users can swipe from the top to view all messages in the center. In addition, app icons in the iOS Springboard can have number badges attached to them to indicate that there are new messages. The tiles on the Windows 8 Start screen combine the functionality of both numeric badges on app icons and the Notification Center on an iPad. Users can launch apps and read notifications all from one place. In addition, unlike the notifications in iOS which have a fixed format, Windows Store app tiles are available in three square sizes and one wide size, and have a rich collection of templates for designers to choose from.

Example: notifications on the home screen

A Photo journal notification on the iPad Springboard.The Photo journal tile and notification on the Start Screen.


A. App icon with numeric badge on iPad Springboard.

B. Notification center with Photo journal notification.

Windows 8

C. Tile on the Start screen with both numeric badge and notifications. Many tile templates are available.


Use toasts for transient and important notifications

You can use toast notifications to notify users of events in real time. Unlike tile updates that are passive, toast notifications in Windows Store apps are important updates that interrupt users. They show up on the top right of the screen and can appear anywhere in the system. Generally, it's best to let users opt-in to notifications during their first run of the app. If applicable, show recent toast notifications on tiles while they are still relevant. Toasts are similar to the iOS transient alerts displaying as banners at the top of the screen. But designers can choose from a collection of toast templates to make their notifications more relevant.

Example: Photo journal notifies users when they receive a comment from a family member

A toast notification on the Start Screen.

User is set up to receive toast notifications when a family member has commented on photos in the app.


About the authors

Bart Claeys, Ratio Interactive.

Bart Claeys is the Lead User Experience Designer at Ratio Interactive, and specializes in UI/UX for web and mobile apps. Previously he worked as an Interactive Art Director for Saatchi & Saatchi Brussels, where he created interactive campaigns for Toyota, Sony, and several other international brands. Bart holds a Master's degree in Product Development, and obtained additional training in brand management. He's the founder of, the leading creative job board in Belgium. In 2006 Bart won the "You are Flanders future" award, established by the Flemish government to promote entrepreneurship.

Qixing Zheng, Microsoft Corporation.

Qixing Zheng is a User Experience Program Manager at Microsoft. She is part of the team that created the Windows 8 user interface and has been helping designers to learn about the Microsoft design language. Her passion is deeply rooted in helping people improve their user experience with the technology they rely on every day. Before joining the Windows team, Qixing worked as the first UX advisor at Microsoft Canada where she spoke at universities, design communities, and companies about Microsoft’s investment in UX. She also worked at identifying design heroes and collecting design stories from the community.


Related topics

Recreating iOS app designs in Windows 8
Resources for iOS developers



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