Tech Tuesday: Relative History, the First Genealogy App for the Windows Phone Platform

Relative History AppWhen I wanted to go “mobile” with my family research earlier this year, I was a bit frustrated by the fact that most, if not all, of the popular genealogy apps available were developed mainly for iPad/iPhone, and Android devices. As a result, me and my wonderful Windows Phone were left out in the cold . . . that is until Relative History by Papillon Productions —  the first genealogy application available for Windows Phone Platform — was born!

So what are my thoughts about Relative History?

PROS:

– I like how my list of ancestors utilizes the same layout as the Contacts app on my Windows Phone. By default, surnames are displayed in alpha-order. But I can change how they’re displayed  from the “settings screen” found on the home screen of the app

Relative History v1.2.0.4
– Tap on any ancestor and more details about them (i.e.  links to parents, children, events, etc) will display

– There’s a Source screen where you’re able to see which sources have been referenced in your research.

– This app supports JPEG, PNG, and TIFF images and can link to scanned documents and photographs of individuals.

– Depending on the information provided for events, this app may be able to display the location of the event. If it can, a map will appear. Tap the map and it will connect you to a full map app that opens with directions to the event site in your GEDCOM file!

Relative History v1.2.0.4
– I currently don’t have any music and video files in my GEDCOM. But if I did, I understand that these files are opened with the phone’s media player (so all formats supported by the phone can be played). Web pages are opened in the phone’s browser.

CONS:

– This current version is for browsing only

Overall, my experience with this app has been a very good one and I feel positive that my use of it will only get better. But what I’ve enjoyed most has been the excellent product support I’ve received from its developer, Philip Colmer. This post about Relative History would not be complete if I didn’t tell you more about the man that’s making Genealogy-on-the-GO possible for Windows phone users!

Q: Who is Philip Colmer? Where is Papillon Productions located and how long has this business been in existence?

My wife & I enjoy photography and we created Papillon Pictures as a means of selling photos through iStockPhoto and as a business for wedding photography & videography. When I decided I wanted to write an app for Windows Phone, it seemed like a logical progression to create Papillon Productions. So I am, in essence, Papillon Productions. We’re based in the UK, just outside of Cambridge. The business has been in existence since the end of 2011 – I started it specifically with the purpose of creating genealogy software for the Windows Phone and Windows 8 platforms.

Q: How did the creation of Relative History come about?

Relative History was born out of two parts – my desire to write software for Windows Phone and the identification of a gap in the Windows Phone apps. To date, Relative History is the only app for Windows Phone that allows the user to navigate through genealogy information.

Both my wife & I are very interested in genealogy – I became interested primarily when my father died about 10 years ago. It sometimes takes an event like that to help you realise that as family members die, so does their own knowledge of the past. Census and BMD records can only tell you so much. Oral and written history is often required to fill in the gaps. My wife, with her Welsh heritage, has always been interested in genealogy. The Welsh have a tradition of using the family bible to record family events and relationships between different family members, so she has had a lot of family history in her head as she has grown up. She has taken on the primary role of pulling together the genealogy information for both our families and she uses a well-known and popular application for Windows, but she doesn’t find it intuitive, to use one of her favourite words! In deciding to write Relative History, I aimed to correct that and create an app for both the phone and larger devices that is intuitive and logical to use.

Q: Relative History is an EXCELLENT name for this application. Who came up with the name?

The name of the app came about when I was looking at the names of the products already on the market and trying to pick one that didn’t clash. To be honest, it was just a moment of inspiration. I love the fact that – in English at least – it can have two meanings. I’m not sure if that works so well in other languages as the word “relative” might be different words depending on the meaning.

Q: How long did it take to create this app and how many versions of it exist today? Are there plans to launch any other applications and versions in the near future?

The app took about 8 months to write. I work full-time so this is, to a large degree, a hobby for me. I mostly try to code at weekends and sometimes at evenings. There is only the one version for Windows Phone 7 at the moment but I have started work on a version for the Windows Store (i.e. for Windows 8). The current app works on Windows Phone 8 as well but I may make some small changes to the app just to take advantage of the simpler new features such as being able to restart the app where you were last using it. The intention is that the Windows 8 version will be the first version to provide a full editing experience. I’m not yet sure how much functionality there will be in the initial release and how much I’ll hold back to later versions. Regardless of that, though, once that version is released, it is my intention to write a new version for the Phone platform (hopefully for both Windows Phone 7 & 8) that then also provides editing capability and data exchange with the “big brother” version of the app.

It is worth explaining why the current app doesn’t allow editing. The app uses a database on the phone to store the contents of the GEDCOM file. It has always been my plan to have apps on both the phone and on the PC, with data exchange between them. However, Windows 8 does not support the same database platform as Window Phone 7, so I’ve had to choose a different database technology for the Windows 8 app. This means that you cannot take the database files & exchange them. So that, in turn, is why the version of the Phone app that supports editing needs to wait until the Windows 8 app is finished.

 The reason why I’ve taken this approach and not enhanced the phone app to allow editing & then export of the GEDCOM file is because, for most people, GEDCOM files are generally “lossy”. What I mean by that is that each application that exports GEDCOM tends to do it slightly differently to another application. Furthermore, some applications provide features and functionality that don’t actually map onto a GEDCOM structure, so you end up with an exported file that may not contain all of the information.

 When the apps allow editing, they will also have the functionality to export to a GEDCOM file, but that will not be the primary method for sharing the database between the different Relative History apps. I hope that makes sense!

Q: I connected with you via Facebook and truly appreciate your assistance with getting my GEDCOM installed via the free beta version I downloaded from the Windows Phone Store . How and where did you find beta testers for your app?

I initially sought out beta testers by using Twitter and contacting a number of Windows Phone related sites. They then “retweeted” my request and I got about 5 testers that way. Unfortunately, none of them gave me any feedback. Instead, what I’ve been doing recently is building up a core group of people who have contacted me because of problems and I’ve then been working with their GEDCOM files to resolve the issues & get them to test the fixes. Some of them have also been kind enough to suggest improvements – something I always welcome.

Q: Is there an official Papillon Productions website URL where everyone interested in this app can learn more about it and connect with you?

The main URL is the Facebook one, which is https://www.facebook.com/papillonproductions

Visit the Windows Phone Store to buy or learn more about Relative History today!

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