Windows Phone links for the week


    A good number of us from the team are in Redmond this week on our annual pilgrimage to the mothership (Microsoft Headquarters) for training, so content from me will be a little lighter than usual.

    As a result, I wanted to share with you a set of links and resources that are new to help you learn more on Windows Phone development and also a reminder of some older links that you might want to bookmark as well.

    Happy coding!

    Five-Part Series on Metro Design

    A five-part series on Metro design for Windows Phone.
    31 Weeks of Metro Design for Windows Phone An in-depth discussion on the topic of Metro for Windows Phone by Arturo Toledo (Senior User Experience Designer for Windows Phone).  A weekly post series currently in motion.

    Five-Part Series on Succeeding on the Windows Phone Marketplace

    A five-part series on strategies you can use to increase the adoption and downloads of your app/game on the Windows Phone Marketplace.

    Webcast:  A lap around Windows Phone 7.5 Link to a 3 hour webcast I presented on implementing features of Windows Phone 7.5 in your apps today.
    Microsoft Canada Windows Phone Developer Resources Page A page outlining a number of great resources to get you started on Windows Phone development and resources that can help you after you’ve become familiar with Windows Phone development.
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    Winning on the Marketplace: The differentiation game


    When a mobile app marketplace hits a population of five figures, it becomes a little tough at times to have your app stand out of the crowd. Even if your app or game is the most awesome thing ever invented since the spork, it’s still tough to get that initial traction when there is a sea of other apps that also get users’ attention. One of the ways to gain that traction is to create an app or game experience that is fundamentally different (in a positive way) from your competitors’ apps and even making your app stand out across apps that are not even related to yours. Experience trumps almost everything, so if you make the experience of your app amazing, then you will get traction sooner or later.

    Differentiation is one of those buzzwords that seems to find its way into most tech-related conversations these days. It’s right up there with the phrase leveraging synergies. That said, there is a time and place for every word and phrase and I’m going to use Differentiation in this post.

    Mobile app stores are funny things, really. When they are new and therefore not very populated, users complain that they can’t find the apps they’re looking for. Then, when a mobile platform takes off and becomes popular, users complain that they can’t find the apps they’re looking for. Interesting similarities, aren’t they.

    If the marketplace is new, it’s much easier to get traction when your app is awesome because the focus becomes squarely on your app or game. This post isn’t about that scenario. This post is about getting your apps and games to stand out in a crowded marketplace (the Windows Phone Marketplace is rapidly getting to that state with over 50,000 apps published and growing and a fast clip on top of that).

    The rest of this discussion will focus on strategies to make your apps and games shine and therefore get your users’ attention by implementing great features that will rock your app experience.

    Understand your mobile app platform

    The first thing you really need to do to succeed in differentiating your app from the rest is understand your mobile app platform.  The more your know about the capabilities of your target platform, the easier it is to determine scenarios under which your app will really shine on the platform.  Be creative with the capabilities; maybe there’s something you could do with a feature like push notifications in your app that no one has ever done before.

    It also means to understand the personality of your target platform.  In the case of Windows Phone, this is largely about the Metro Design Language (more on that here).  If you were talking about iOS, the personality is more glassy and bubble-oriented.  For Android, it looks like Google has adopted something similar to Metro (focus on typography, flat style, etc.).  Going against the native style of the phone platform makes your app jarring.  That said, a jarring interface is likely going to differentiate your app from competitors but you have to be careful; it the app doesn’t feel like it belongs, then users will likely make sure it doesn’t belong in their app list, either.

    Experience is a key differentiator

    I talked a little bit about experience already in this post (and others) and it may sound a bit like a broken record, but I cannot stress the point enough that a great user experience sells more apps.  Users want to be delighted.  Users want to have intuitive interfaces.  Users want the cool features they expect in the mobile apps they already use in your app and they expect something different as well.  It’s up to you to define “something different” but suffice it to say, it’s that extra added touch that makes your app that much more in demand.

    journeyUltimately, the experience of your app defines a journey for your user.  There are three stages to this journey as well and you need to think about all of them:


    • Attract:  The first thing you need to do is make the user want to download your app.  Clearly, if you can’t entice a user to download your app, you’ve lost the game with that user.  In order to do that, make sure you:
      • spend the time to describe your app appropriately in its Marketplace page (accurate, with strong value proposition). 
      • don’t make the description too long or short and leave out the flowery words. 
      • screenshots should be indicative of the experience of the app
      • feel free to add revision history (it shows the app has been “cared for and fed”), but keep it to at most the last three revisions.
      • entice existing users to leave comments.  If you are not confident enough that your app will get enough positive feedback, then ask yourself why, then try to fix it.
    • Delight:  So the user has downloaded your app.  Now you need to make the user feel good about his/her decision to either buy or try your app.  This takes some thought and you can employ strategies to make them keep coming back to your app.
      • The first experience a user has with your app is like a first date.  Users want to get to know your app, but you have to be careful not to let the user discover all of your app’s secrets and hidden features on the first try.  That is not to say you should hide things or make your app non-intuitive – just craft your app’s experience into a journey of discovery.
      • On the second and subsequent visits to your app, try to guide your users through the experience.  Don’t create a wizard (thats so 1990’s!); just make the flow of the app reward users as they get more familiar with it.
    • Retain:  Finally, you need to make sure you keep your long-time/loyal users happy with your app as well.  The way you do this is to keep the app healthy and vibrant through updates.  I mentioned that apps with appropriate care and feeding (i.e.:  updates) tend to do well in mobile app marketplaces.  If you have an app that has had some life on the Marketplace, make sure you update it in an appropriate cadence that lets users know that you, as the app’s publisher, care about it’s lifecycle and that you are committed to its success.

    Ways to differentiate on Windows Phone

    Now that we’ve talked about strategies on differentiation in a fairly general sense, it’s time for me to give you examples of features on the Windows Phone platform that you can use on your apps to create amazing (and differentiated) experiences that make your app more marketable!

    • Live Tiles:  One of the most in-your-face, signature components for Windows Phone is the tile interface on the home screen.  It’s unmistakeable and it may surprise you as to how powerful they really are.  For a great description of how to create Live Tiles for your apps that really pop, check out Chris Koenig’s post about it here.
    • Hub Integration: Hubs are amazing collections of information found on Windows Phone.  They include the People Hub, Music and Video Hub, Game Hub and Pictures Hub.  There is so much power in these hubs as it gets the user to info and content they need without having to traverse multiple apps.  Your apps can integrate into hubs as well.  If your app makes use of content or provides content to any of these hubs, you’ll want to learn how to do this.  Examples include:  Music and Video Hub Integration Tutorial, Pictures Hub Integration Tutorial.
    • Secondary Tiles:  Secondary Tiles are a great feature that allows users to pin a tile of your app to their home screen that sends them to a specific part of their app rather than the main screen of the app.  Take, for example, a news app.  The news app may have general news, world news and local news.  That app could have deep linking capabilities that allow the user to pin any or all of the tiles for your app for each of those news types.  There is a great tutorial on how to implement Secondary Tiles here.

    Hopefully this article gave you some new ideas on how to make your app more marketable.  If you have found more ways to make your app more successful in the Marketplace, feel free to share!

    This post was the fourth 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 fifth post (how to get promoted in the Windows Phone Marketplace) is upcoming on this blog.

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    Would you like a scholarship from Microsoft?


    CarletonTalkFull time students in a Bachelor’s degree program at a 4 year college or university in Canada can apply for scholarships from Microsoft. Deadline for the next round of scholarships is February 3rd.

    When we visited Carleton University Tuesday evening with Heidi Dowling, one of the Microsoft recruiters, and Mark Staveley, a fellow Canadian now working on the Xbox team in Redmond. Heidi asked the students one question that caught my attention:

    “Who here would like free money?”

    Suffice to say a lot of hands went up (including mine!). Heidi then want on to explain the Microsoft gives out scholarships every year and Canadian students enrolled full time in undergraduate degrees can apply.

    The deadline for applications is fast approaching: February 3rd! So don’t wait, go to www.microsoft.com/university and apply for a scholarship, because hey who doesn’t like free money Smile.

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    Winning on the Marketplace: Finding the pricing sweet spot


    Ah, the ultimate question for developers trying to maximize their profits on the Marketplace:  “What should I charge for my app?”  The question is simple.  The answer is always far from simple.  As a developer who spent intense and likely long hours making an idea come to life in the form of a Windows Phone app, honing it and tweaking it and then tweaking it once more, this decision is an agonizing one.  Fear, uncertainty and doubt creep into your head… What if I overprice it?  Even worse, what if I underprice it?  How many apps will I have to sell/distribute to break even?  Every single app situation is unique; there isn’t any single silver bullet that can solve your pricing questions.  This post is meant to provide you with a set of tools to help you come to an answer to that incredibly important question.

    winning$5.99 for that?  Are they crazy?  How many times have you found an app you wanted to purchase but balked at the price?  Probably quite a few times.  And here’s an even more interesting question:  After balking at that price the developer is charging for that app you want, how often have you bought it anyway (even if you had to walk away first and then come back later to purchase it)?  It’s a good question and says a lot about the psyche of the typical consumer with app shopping on the mind.

    The most successful entrepreneurs selling apps and games on application Marketplaces (it really doesn’t matter which mobile platform we’re talking about here; Windows Phone, iOS, Android, Blackberry – it’s all the same for this context) have something in common.  They know their market, their target customer and the purchasing behaviour of their customer.  In other words, they intrinsically know the true value of their app to prospective purchasers.

    franchiseSo how do these successful app publishers know what price to charge their app?  Well, frankly they do their homework.  Think of it this way:  if you were in the market to purchase a fast food franchise, I’m guessing you wouldn’t just hand over a suitcase full of cash to the franchisor and say “Here, now gimme my franchise!”.  Of course you would research it first!  Things like how much does the franchisor charge as a startup fee?  What are the recurring franchisor fees?  Are there minimum revenue targets required to keep the franchise?  Is there an ideal (or at least good) location for my franchise?  Is my location going to attract the clientele I am targeting? etc., etc., etc.

    It’s essentially the same thing with pricing an app.  Doing your homework (and not cheating or copying, mind you) goes a long way to driving the success of your app.  For example:

    • Understand the market you are addressing.  What would you define as the typical customer for your app?  How much buying power does that typical customer have? How many of these typical customers are in a given market?
    • Who is my competition? Understanding the competition you will be facing (past, present and most importantly, the future – more on that below) is very important.  As you’ll see later, your price point doesn’t have to be similar or less than the competition, but you should have confidence in the price point you end up on compared to your competitors’ price.
    • Does my app have differentiating features compared to the competition? If you have implemented a feature that clearly differentiates the experience or value of your app compared to your competition, then you have an opportunity to charge more (but note this can be a dangerous line of thinking – be reasonable and self-critical about the value of these differentiated features).
    • What volume of downloads are you expecting? Depending on how many instances of your app you expect to sell, it may be a competitive advantage for you to use this knowledge to force the price of your app up or down.
    • How much did it cost you to build your app?  Sounds like a simple question but there are a lot of nuances to it.  The cost to build the app includes hardware and software, your time (and that of anyone you recruit to help you), real estate and office expenses and other miscellaneous expenses (such as taking out an investor to lunch, etc.) among a myriad of other expenses.
    • What are the carrying costs for your app?  Just because you published your app doesn’t mean your actually done.  The best apps don’t rest on their laurels.  Bug fixes, feature updates and general customer service (like any software business out there) are part of the bargain.  You need to spend some time here to determine realistically how much the app is going to cost to maintain and factor that into your pricing decision as well.



    The equation above is about as obvious as it gets.  But your revenue goals may vary greatly from other publishers’ revenue goals.  Are you looking to break even? Make a profit?  Make a monster profit?  Every decision comes at a price so be aware of the cost of your goals.

    Free, Freemium and Paid

    marketplace-screen-confirm-purchaseThere are basically three revenue models in the Windows Phone Marketplace (at least, the way I see it). 

    Free is free.  As in beer.  Meaning you build the app, you publish the app and make it available to anyone and everyone with a Windows Phone for free with no real strings attached.  In this model, price = 0, meaning your revenue is also 0.  There are lots of reasons why you would want to build free apps, but I’ll leave it to you to think of some of them.

    Freemium is free, with a catch.  The catch could be implemented in a number of ways.  The most obvious way is advertisement-supported.  That means that you are giving away your app for free to anyone on the Windows Phone Marketplace who wants it, but you are generating your revenue from ads that exist on the app.  There are tons of apps in the Marketplace that have adopted this model.  The catch to you as a publisher, however, is that the revenue stream you get from this model will vary.  The revenue you get from an app in this model depends not only on the number of downloads, but also how often the users will open the app.  If users download the app and open it once, your revenue will be small.  If your app is popular and often used, however, the app may actually far exceed the revenue you would get from a paid app.  For more info on how freemium can work, there’s a really great blog post by the author of the Krashlander game that you might want to check out about how his app did.

    Paid apps are exactly what you would expect.  Users download your app and (eventually) pay for it and continue using it.  If you price your app or game right, this model is a great one as you can almost forecast the revenue you get from your app in the Marketplace based on download trends and run rates.  If you use the paid app model, however, please be aware of a few things:

    • Include a trial (more on trials in your app here).  A great feature of the Windows Phone app platform is that it provides a great facility for allowing you to put trials on your paid apps easily.  This will allow you to showcase your app without risk to the user, which has shown so far to produce seven times the revenue (on average) that you will gain for your app compared to an app with no trial.
    • Use the Freemium model in your trial.  There is nothing stopping you from adding advertisements into your trial mode.  In fact, I strongly encourage it.  That way, you still get revenue even from your trial app.  Who doesn’t like free money?
    • Spend time figuring out the right price .  As discussed above, there is an art and science to pricing your app.  Make sure you research your potential user base and geographies to determine appropriate price ranges.  Be careful not to overprice or underprice your app as you will be leaving money on the table if you do.

    Parting Shots:  Tips on Pricing your App Right

    As you can see, pricing your app correctly requires work on your end.  Do your homework and it will likely pay off in spades for you.  That said, you can still have a number of tricks up your sleeve to entice users to buy your app.  I discuss some of them now:

    • Do not underprice your app.  If you underprice your app, you leave money on the table for sure, but you also make it very difficult to hike the price of your app later.
    • Experiment with different price points in similar geographies.  If you are rolling out your app in a controlled way (i.e.:  not publishing in every market right off the bat), then you can test the waters for your app’s pricing in targeted geographies that are similar to see what the purchasing behaviour ends up being.  That way you can make corrections as you enter new markets.
    • Start at the upper range of pricing.  It’s ok to be optimistic in your pricing as long as you’re realistic.  Understand the value of your app and after you do your research, follow your intuition and price it out even if you feel it might be a little high at first.  As an opposite rule to the first point above, it’s a lot easier to adjust your price downward.
    • Use app sales to your advantage.  Offer your app at a discount for limited times.  This will allow you to generate interest for your app and create buzz for it.  If someone sees your app is on sale for a limited time, that will make him/her think of buying it.  During the sale you’ll get less revenue per purchase but you may make up the difference and then some in volume.

    Good luck!  If you have other pricing strategies that you have found worked, feel free to comment!

    This post was the second 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 fourth post (differentiation using Windows Phone-specific features like Live Tiles and Push Notifications) and fifth post (how to get promoted in the Windows Phone Marketplace) are upcoming on this blog.

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    Tips and Tricks from students: Windows Phone Game “Distortion”


    distortionTeamSee what five students at Carleton university learned developing their first Windows Phone game and apply what they learned to your next game.

    Check out more tips from fellow students here

    Could you briefly describe your application/game?
    Our game is a 3D, side-scrolling, platform game developed for the Windows Phone. Each level of the game is comprised of doors that when entered, lead to another door in the level, with the objective being to find the path to the exit door. As the levels progress, the game gets more challenging and obstacles are introduced such as locked doors, enemies and ‘death’ doors. 

    Did you use XNA, Silverlight or both?
    We used both XNA and Silverlight to develop our game. We chose XNA because it was a programming language we were familiar with. We developed the gameplay in XNA and used Silverlight to incorporate menus and user interfaces.

    What was your banging your head against a wall moment?
    There were a few of them! The biggest one was that our game severely lagged when we ran it on a Windows Phone. Our code was optimized and our poly counts were extremely low, so we had a really hard time trying to solve this issue. We were trying to figure it out for weeks.

    Did you ever solve that issue?
    Some other groups in our class were having similar problems so our professor, Ali Arya, looked into the problem. He figured out that if you disable some of the lighting effects it greatly improves the performance. Of course, we lost some of the visual quality of our game, but having a playable game was much more important.

    If you had to build this same app again from scratch, what would you do differently?

    I think if we were to build this app again from scratch, we would be more careful to test every aspect of our game before starting the next task. We rigged our model right away without testing it and ran into issues with the normals. If we had tested it first, we would have saved ourselves the time of rigging the model twice. We also didn’t have enough time to implement background music and sound effects, so we would make sure to implement those if we had to build this app again from scratch.

    Any nice suprises?
    Yes! Incorporating touch and gesture detection was much easier than expected. There were a lot of helpful manuals and documentation online and when we made the switch from keyboard events on the computer to gesture events on the phone, it worked on our first try!

    Did you leverage the touch screen?
    We made use of a few of the touch screen gestures. ‘Horizontal drag’ was used to get the character to move left and right, ‘flick’ was used to make the character jump, and ‘tap’ was used to get the character to go through a door.

    Did you have a favourite feature?
    We particularly liked the application bar. We kept it visible throughout our game with a ‘home’ button that took the user back to the main menu of the game. It provided an easy way to incorporate an in-game menu and it helped our game to fit the style of other Windows Phone applications.

    What is one thing you think you did really well in this application?
    We are really proud of how our game turned out. In our initial design of the game, we only planned to create six levels but we ended up making 15. We have really nice 2D and 3D graphics for each of the 5 worlds and our game is unique, entertaining, and addictive. The game is also extremely responsive to touch gestures, making it really easy and fun to play.

    Are you publishing your application/game?
    Not at the moment. There are still some finishing touches we want to incorporate into the game before we put it in the marketplace. We are hoping to have it published within the next few months though.

    Where can I learn more about your app/game?
    At our game website.

    Who developed this application?
    Our team consists of five members working closely together to realize our vision.
    Yasmine Taha - Yasmine was the project manager as well as the Level Designer for the game to keep the team on track and come up with new levels which get progressively more challenging.
    Brittany Pinder - Brittany was the lead programmer and brought the game to life.
    Ayah Jardaneh - Ayah was responsible for all the 3D modelling and 2D graphics, to create unique concepts for each of the levels.
    Kyla Hidalgo -  Designed and the developed the user interface for the game  as well as the game assets
    Lindsay Coderre - Lindsay focused on rigging and animation to bring life to Kyla and her adversaries.

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