February, 2012

  • Canadian Mobile Developers' Blog

    Get brained up on Windows Phone and build your app

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    TrainingIn March, we are visiting four cities across Canada to give a full day workshop to help you get started building Windows Phone apps.  In this workshop, you can expect to learn how to build apps for Windows Phone and have expert support for you to build your very own Windows Phone app or game.  It’s a full day of learning, doing and fun – get brained up on Windows Phone!

     

    If you live in or close to Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto or Vancouver and you want to learn how to build Windows Phone apps, this is an event you’ll want to attend.  For $25, you will receive a full day of training and support in building your Windows Phone apps.  Microsoft, in partnership with Wavefront, is offering this workshop to help you kickstart your app creation on Windows Phone, with the intent that at the end of the day, you will have the knowledge you need to not only start an app, but get far enough along that you’ll be close to publishing the app (depending on its complexity).

    The registration links are here:

    • Montreal (March 26, 2012)
    • Ottawa (March 27, 2012)
    • Toronto (March 28, 2012)
    • Vancouver (date to be announced; link will be made available once the date is available)

    The agenda and details are as follows:

    Wavefront and Microsoft are pleased to present a hands-on WaveGuide code camp for developers that will help you build your app and get you prepared to submit it to the Windows Phone Marketplace. With an application ecosystem that is continuing to not only grow, but accelerate in growth, now is the time to port your existing apps to Windows Phone and build new apps for the platform as well. In January, the Windows Phone Marketplace hit the 50,000 app/game milestone in just over a year, the fastest mobile platform to reach that mark.

    The workshop will start off with a presentation that goes over the basic principles of building an app and how you submit it to the Marketplace. The intent of this presentation is to provide an overview of what you as a mobile developer can expect throughout the experience of building a Windows Phone 7.5 application. After the presentation, you will be able to begin building your own Windows Phone apps with support from Windows Phone experts and proctors who will answer questions that you may have. We will also have mini-lessons in regular intervals throughout the day to help you learn some of the deeper concepts of Windows Phone development. Attendees can choose to listen to these lessons or continue building the apps they started.

    In order to participate in the workshop, you will need your own PC running either Windows 7 or Windows Vista. You must download the free developer tools ahead of time so you can hit the ground running rather than spend time during the workshop installing the tools.

    Register by March 2 and your name will be entered in the early bird prize draw to win 1 of 2 Windows phones! At the event, you will be able to get hands-on with Windows Phone demo devices and enter for a chance to win your own!

    Who should attend?

    • Developers with an iOS or Android app ready to port to Windows Phone
    • Experienced developers wanting to learn more about the opportunity and looking to build Windows Phone applications

    Reasons to develop apps for Windows Phone:

    • Showcase your apps that may be buried or lost in other saturated Marketplaces
    • Increase your reach to a new audience of early adopters looking for great apps
    • Windows Phone developers are well supported and rewarded, check out http://www.developermovement.com/ for details

    Agenda:

    Time Session
    08:30AM – 09:00AM Registration and Breakfast
    09:00AM – 09:30AM Presentation:  The Windows Phone Opportunity
    09:30AM – 09:45AM Case Study (Real Life Experiences from a Local Developer)
    09:45AM – 10:30AM Presentation:  Building Windows Phone Applications
    10:30AM – 10:45AM Coffee Break
    10:45AM – 11:15AM Optional Mini-Lesson: Porting Existing Apps to Windows Phone
    12:00PM – 01:00PM Lunch
    01:00PM – 01:30PM Optional Mini-Lesson: Push Notifications & Live Tiles
    02:30PM – 03:00PM Optional Mini-Lesson: Multi-tasking and Tombstoning
    03:00PM – 03:15PM Coffee Break
    04:00PM – 04:30PM Optional Mini-Lesson: Succeeding on the Marketplace
    04:45PM – 05:00PM Wrap Up & Prize Draws

    Hopefully we’ll see you there!

  • Canadian Mobile Developers' Blog

    Mobile screen != PC screen. Raise your hand if you knew that.

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    AreYouKiddingMeOk, I admit it.  The headline was a bit of link bait given how obvious it is.  That being said, it’s surprising how often the mistake is made by app developers to add more features and screen activity than is necessary.  This is especially true of developers porting a PC app to the mobile form factor.  It’s actually really easy to fall into the trap of making an app busier than it needs to be.  Good mobile app design is more than an appealing UI.  It’s even more important to understand the purpose of the app and how it will be used.  Take your cues from that and your app will be more usable to the masses.  This post is the first in a five-part series on creating awesome mobile UIs and creating your app with mobility-first in mind.  The second post is on placement of controls in your UI to be most effective for frequent use.  The third post will be on the size of UI assets on the screen and why it is important.  The fourth post will be on when to use an app bar vs. populating controls on your app’s screens.  The fifth and final post will be on implementing gestures and animations to make them useful to the app.

    A little while back, I wrote a 5-part Metro Primer blog post series that has received some pretty great reviews (thanks to those who shared your feedback on this series!).  The intent of this series was to introduce you to Microsoft’s Metro Design Language if you hadn’t yet seen it as an app developer and if you had seen Metro before, to help you craft great Metro experiences.  Metro is powerful and expressive and you can really create amazing and artful experiences for your apps with it.  Like any other user interface paradigm, however, it’s just as easy (actually, maybe even easier) to create truly horrible experiences that ultimately hurt your app’s chances of being adopted.

    This series of 5 blog posts (the others will be posted throughout the next few days on the Canadian Mobile Developers blog) is meant to be a companion to the Metro primer in that its purpose it to provide some good practices to use for your apps’ screens so that they are effective, intuitive and make your users come back to the app.  Even if you never read the Metro Primer series, you might want to read this series as I will dive into tips that will make you think critically about how to build the UI for your app.  And a little hint here – a lot of what I’ll talk about is actually platform agnostic.  So if you are an Android developer, iOS developer or any other mobile platform developer, this content could be very useful to you.

    The Smartphone is not a PC

    Again, duh.  Clearly they are not the same.  Even the smallest of laptops are distinctly different from mobile devices.  Yet many app developers make the fatal mistake of assuming a mobile app is just:

    • A scaled-down desktop
    • A smaller screen
    • A PC with less computing power.

    In the back of our heads, we all innately understand the concept that mobile devices and PCs are fundamentally different.  But when we make the mistakes like the ones listed above (and trust me, app marketplaces across all platforms are littered with examples), it becomes clearer that the issue is not as cut and dry as it first seems. 

    Let’s face it.  Even app developers that are currently in high school have earned a pedigree in understanding their way around a computer.  In many cases, that history with PCs is long and full of experience building technology solutions that target PCs.  When we make the change to becoming mobile app developers, we have a bias (whether or not we are aware of it) towards building apps that adhere to traditional PC software design principles, at least in part.  Children in grade school are seeing a very different technological reality.  Their first experiences in technology are just as likely to be on a mobile device (phone or tablet) than on a PC-form factored device.

    If you take a look at the PC, it is a true workhorse tool capable of doing almost infinite things.  It also has a lot of power behind it.  It also has the ability to provide a huge amount of screen real estate.  Mobile devices are by nature almost the opposite.  They are capable of doing amazing things, but the use case is generally much more limited than that of a PC.  Likewise, the power of the device, while equivalent in modern smartphones to PCs even just 5 years ago, is limited and the intent is to have it untethered from power sources for much larger amounts of time.  Finally, screen real estate is generally fixed and often small. 

    As developers of traditional PC or web solutions, our mindset must change from creating apps that are scaled down versions of PC apps.  That just doesn’t work.  And believe me, it’s tough to remove yourself from a PC mindset when designing a mobile app.  Instead, try to watch grade school children use mobile technology and try to understand the patterns they employ to get tasks done on those devices.  The activities that grade school children do on mobile devices are much more pure to the spirit of the mobile form factor as they have no real past history on the PC form factor and provide hints as to how to best implement functionality in your mobile app.

    Designing for motion

    The last point I will bring up in this post is to always keep in mind that we need to design for motion.  By motion, I don’t mean crazy animation on the screen (that’s a topic for the fifth post in this series).  I mean we have to design our app with the understanding that our users are always in motion.  Your app will be used by someone that is just as likely to be walking to an elevator or shifting in the cold waiting for a bus as someone who is sitting at his/her desk.

    In other words, this is what we think mobile experiences are like:

    MobileExperiences1

    When, in fact, mobile experiences are more like this:

    MobileExperiences2

    Busy user interfaces on mobile apps simply don’t work in truly mobile conditions.  Users are not going to pay 100% attention to your app if they are on the move, so designing the user interface to take this in mind will make your app exponentially better to your users.

  • Canadian Mobile Developers' Blog

    (Guest Post) WP App Lifecycle Series – Maintaining Your Apps: Dealing with Crashes

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    The following post is the second in a series about how to manage apps you’ve built after you’ve published them. The first post was an introduction to the series.  This post talks about how to deal with application errors reported to the Marketplace after you have published your app.  The series is written by Atley Hunter, one of the top Windows Phone app developers in the world and Canadian! This series was originally posted on Atley’s blog and is re-syndicated here with his permission. 

    As much as we all try, some of our apps crash. The more complex your app, the more libraries it includes, the more toolkits you utilize, the higher the risk of a crash when the user runs your apps.

    We have all been guilty of it, I found out recently that I had an app that crashed all the time according to the users, but in my testing, I never did see a crash. This actually speaks of a different problem, testing your own software. If you can, get other people to test your software, preferably a mix of designers, software developers and most importantly, n00bs, neophytes and technophobes Winking smile. The latter group will give you the best bang for your buck because they will do things to/with your software that you would never dream of and, guess what? They are actually your audience!!! You are building this software for them if you are trying to make money with it!

    Now, back to the crashes… Horrible things, but they need to be dealt with. Bugs, we gotta squash ‘em. Here’s how to get a pretty accurate account of what is happening to your poor users.

    What to Do:

    You should regularly check with your App Hub account to see what is going on.
    (I am trying to write an app for us all to do, comment if you want this!).

    To do this, go to your Dashboard for Windows Phone and look under the App Highlights. Here you will find a report that shows you your Most downloaded and Recent crashes.

    Under the list of Recent crashes, you will see a list of any of your apps that have had crashes reported by the users. Click on the number of crashes listed beside.

    image

    This will take you to a screen called crash count (beta) which will show you when the crashes are occurring and allows you to download a file that contains the stack traces of the errors! A note: I usually select a start date way before I released the app to make sure that the report includes all the crashes!

    image

    Once the file has downloaded, you can then examine it for a wealth of information on the details of the crashes that the users have experienced. Everything from the Version of Windows Phone the user was using and the Problem Function:

    image

    To the Exception Type and how often that type of crash has occurred:

    image

    To the meat and potatoes of the Stack Trace (Format with Wrap for best readability Winking smile):

    image

    So, there you have it, you can harvest enough information to make sure that, with some adjustments, you can improve your users’ experiences with your apps and also extend your knowledge of the Windows Phone development framework!!!

  • Canadian Mobile Developers' Blog

    (Guest Post) WP App Lifecycle Series – How Do I???

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    The following post is the first in a series about how to manage apps you’ve built after you’ve published them.  The series is written by Atley Hunter, one of the top Windows Phone app developers in the world and Canadian!  This series was originally posted on Atley’s blog and is re-syndicated here with his permission.

    I get asked a lot of questions that basically start out with – “I made my app, now what do I do with it???”

    That is pretty much the thing that is in most, if not all, developers’ minds. You have built an app and now what? How do you make money? How do you support it? How do you improve it? How do you get more users?

    Most of us are developers, not Project Managers, not Software Development Managers, not Solutions Architects, not Marketers, so once the code is done in our day to day work lives, it goes away, to be replaced by a new feature spec to be coded and released on it’s merry way. We do not see features again unless they are being changed/modified/enhanced or unless there are bugs.

    This leaves some of us at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to the new paradigm of the One-Man-Software-Shop that the new ‘App’ markets have created. Some of us have done very well, some of us have done very not-so-well.

    That’s where this series comes in. I am, or have held each one of those roles listed above in one capacity or another, plus I have a lot of contacts that currently hold those types of positions. I am going to do the research, testing and share what I find right here with you!

    Check here often (or subscribe) and look for the WP App Lifecycle in the title and you will get all the info I find as soon as I can post it here!

    I am very open to suggestions, ideas and questions, so please! Ask/comment/suggest away and lets all make awesome experiences for both our users and us!

  • Canadian Mobile Developers' Blog

    Winning on the Marketplace: Tips on getting promoted

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    Once you have built your app or game and have published it into the Windows Phone Marketplace, you’re likely going to want to monitor the uptake of your app via download and (potentially) revenue statistics.  You are also going to want to find ways to market your app to people who may not know about it.  There are several ways of doing this, some more costly than others.  One of the most effective ways of marketing your app is actually completely free – have the Windows Phone Marketplace showcase your app!  It sounds easy but there are a few things you need to do to increase the chances of this happening and that is what this post focuses on.

    One of the more effective ways of marketing your app is being chosen for promotion in the Windows Phone Marketplace.  We’ve seen how being promoted in the Marketplace can materially affect the download numbers of you app in a positive way.  The Windows Phone Marketplace offers a great number of different ways your apps can be promoted as well, which we will talk about, but first here is a graphic that shows the different ways you can be promoted and how each type of promotion increases your downloads (based on averages from apps that have been promoted on the Windows Phone Marketplace in similar ways in the past):

    PromotionStats

    In essence, there are 3 types of promotion available on the Marketplace and the graphic above shows those ways.  Each has value and being featured in any of those buckets can mean good things to the adoption of your app or game.  Each type of promotion is unique and their values are described below:

    • Panorama Placement:  Panorama placement is the premiere placement for promotion on the Windows Phone Marketplace.  In essence, the when a user opens the Marketplace app on his/her phone, that user will be greeted by a panaroma image of your app (this is the panorama image that you included with your app upon its submission for certification).  The value of this placement is immense as we have seen a 2000% increase in downloads for an app (on average) that is featured in panorma mode.
    • Featured Icon Placement:  Being promoted as a featured icon is the second best way to be featured on the Marketplace.  Your app/game will be seen on the very left portion of the screen of the panorama of the Marketplace (i.e.:  if you flip the screen left by one full phone screen).  Your tile is prominently shown as is the app name, basically enticing users to tap on it and explore what your app entry on the Marketplace says.  Apps that get Featured Icon Placement on average see an 800% increase in app/game downloads during their time being featured.
    • Featured List:  The third mode of getting featured in the Marketplace is the Featured List.  In this list, your app will be featured alongside a number of other apps.  Featured List apps appear in the list of apps in the categories of the Marketplace.  While your app is not as prominently visible compared to the other two methods, it does return an average of a 150% increase in app/game downloads.

    As you can see, being featured is very much worth your while.  While your app is featured (usually for a period that lasts anywhere from 3 to 5 days), you will likely see a noticeable uptick in your app downloads which you can then amplify through any other marketing methods you choose to use throughout your app’s lifecycle.

    So how do I get promoted?

    So you’re sold on the whole featured app thing and want in.  How exactly do you get your app featured?  While there is no specific steps that will guarantee your ability to be featured, the featured apps process is implicitly a fair one (the best, most popular apps will bubble up to the top).  If you feel you have a great app or game, you should read the following sub-sections to get a better understanding of how the Marketplace team assesses quality apps.

    gettingpromoted

    Functionality

    A functional app is more than one that passes the Marketplace certification.  Think of a functional app as a contract between yourself and the user.  When a user downloads your app or game, they are likely doing so either from the description of your app on the Marketplace, it’s screenshots or by recommendation from friends or other users (including ratings).  In any case, they expect your app to have an experience that is consistent with any of those inputs.  If it’s not, then the app is likely to be less popular and as a result, be less likely to be promoted.

    Functionality

    Utility

    An app that shows utility is one that thoughtfully includes features that take advantage of the Windows Phone platform.  Features like Live Tiles, Search Extras, multi-tasking and the like.  It also refers to apps that differentiate themselves with amazing user interfaces that are both visually appealing as well as intuitive and productive.  The Marketplace team also look at the stickiness of the app, which is another way of saying “is this an app that users will use often?”.

    Utility

    Delight

    The final area of differentiation that the Marketplace team will look at in apps and games is how the app will delight users.  This is where most featured apps really, really shine.  If the app shows a “wow factor” (a decidedly unscientific term for sure, but you generally know it when you see it), if it is really unique and has something that no other app or game has, then that is a way that your creation will delight users. 

    A must for the delight factor is proper and effective use of Metro, the Windows Phone Design language.  This is more than just square tiles and lots of text.  To implement Metro properly, you need to take into account a number of principles of the Metro design language (see here and here).  If your app follows these principles properly, your app will look amazing on Windows Phone and have a truly awesome experience on the platform.

    delight

    As you can see, you need to think hard about the quality of your app if you hope for it to be featured.  That said, the payoff of getting featured might very be worth the effort you put in.

    I have just one last tip for you before this blog post series on Marketplace success strategies is finished:  When looking at apps to build, sometimes being featured is a numbers/statistics game.  If there are categories within the Marketplace that are currently underserved compared to other categories (for example, as of the publication date of this post, the Politics section is light in apps compared to other categories like Entertainment and Sports), then your chances of getting featured are that much greater.  Just food for thought…

    This post was the fifth and final post in a series of five posts on strategies for being successful on the Windows Phone Marketplace. The first post (publishing in the right geographies) is here. The second post (trial mode and the art of the upsell) is here. The third post (finding the pricing sweet spot) is here. The fourth post (the differentiation game) is here.

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