Building Great apps step 1 : Refining your app idea


    Kids looking at wallAn app can’t be great at everything, what will your app be best at? Figure that out you are well on you way to a great app

    This blog is part of a series, you can see all the posts in the series here.

    We all know the value of apps, we’ve used good apps, and lousy apps. We appreciate the value of being able to do something quickly and easily on a tablet or phone.

    A tablet or phone is something we just grab off the kitchen table or couch, or bring with us when we go out. It’s smaller and more portable than a laptop. We’ve learned that it can be a great way to get things done or to pass the time with a fun game.

    You have an app idea of your own, but with all the apps in the market, how do you ensure your app stands out? How do you ensure your app adds value? After you come up with an app idea ask yourself one question


    Take the time to figure out what your app will be best at. Write it down! It’s called a “Best at” statement. Keep it short and to the point. Focus on one specific strength. Start the phrase with “My app is best at …”

    Taking the time to write a best at statement helps in many ways

    • It helps you control scope creep (ooh we could add this feature, or that feature, but wait, does that support your best at statement? if it doesn’t don’t add it!)
    • It helps you stand out in the market, look at other similar apps, why will your app be BEST at what it does vs other similar apps? is it more specific for a particular market? Does it have better features?
    • It gives you focus, and a way to evaluate the app. If you tell someone my app is the best at ‘x’ and ask them to test it for you, they can test it with your best at statement in mind and give you feedback to improve on what it is best at.

    Here’s a few sample best at statements to get you thinking about their power.

    My app is the best at timing for bakers – Would a timer app for a baker have different features from the usual timer apps? Sure it would. I want a notification when it’s half way through baking time so I can turn the baking sheets around for even cooking. I want to be able to add 1, 2, or 5 minutes to the timer after it runs out when I look at the cookies and decide they need another 2 mins. I want to be notified if my volume is turned off so I don’t miss the timer and burn the cookies.

    My app is the best at pong for making you laugh  - my pong game will have a twist, it will randomly add small pictures on the board and every time you hit a picture it will either have an effect on the picture (like spin) and make different noises. Users can create their own library of pictures or take pictures with the built-in camera to appear so they can hit their friends. They can also record their own sounds to make when they hit a photo.

    My app is the best at posting to multiple twitter accounts – users can log in to one or more twitter accounts. When they write a tweet they can select which accounts to use for the tweet. They can also define groups of twitter accounts and select to tweet by all accounts in that group. They can select one account to tweet, and other accounts to retweet.

    My app is the best at keeping track of family gift lists – this app allows me to figure out who in my family wants what for Christmas and what has already been purchased. In the app you can define one or more families or groups of people. When there is a group I can invite the members of that group to add items to their wish list. Items can include URLs, photos, and store names where you can purchase the item. When another group member logs in they can see the other family members wish list and they can indicate if they have purchased that item. When you log in to update your own wish list you cannot see what others have purchased from your wish list. Users can also suggest items for each others wish list (e.g. parents suggestions for their kids wish list) when others add to your wish list you do not see what they have added.

    Whether you are already working on an app, or have been thinking of writing an app. Take 15 minutes and come up with your best at statement and write it down. Then score yourself 10 points for getting started on your app! Don’t forget to check our Windows 8 resources page and Windows Phone resources pages to help you start building the app.

    Do you see how the best at statement helps me think about what my app will be able to do, and the features that I should add to the app? The best at statement could appear in the description of your app in the store, so anyone looking at your app in the store instantly understands what your app is best at, so they are more likely to appreciate and use its features because they understand when to use it.

  • Go DevMENTAL

    Got a WordPress site? Bring it to Windows 8 quickly and easily


    wordpress This open source template makes it easy for you to take a WordPress site and provide it’s content through a Windows 8 store app

    if you are a WordPress user (Wordpress.org this template does not support Wordpress.com), there is an open source Windows 8 template built by IdeaNotion you can use to quickly create a Windows 8 store app to showcase the content on your WordPress site.

    The app created by the template allows a user to

    • View your blog posts by category
    • View recent blog posts
    • View your pages
    • View and post comments
    • Bookmark favourite posts
    • See post information in the live tile for the application
    • Use the Search charm to find content
    • Use the Share charm to share a favourite post

    You can download the source code and there is a quick start guide from IdeaNotion to help you out as well.

    Make your WordPress site available to more users through the Windows 8 store! Don’t forget students can publish their Windows 8 apps for free!

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    Get your Windows 8 app published by December 31st and you could win a Surface


    Windows 8 surfaceCanadian Developers who register for Developer Movement and publish Windows 8 apps between December 6th and 31st could win a 64GB Surface.

    Wouldn’t you like to start the new year with a Surface? Odds of winning will depend on the number of people who publish apps, but these are still pretty good odds! A big thank you to Telerik for sponsoring this challenge. They produce a toolset to help you build Windows 8 apps faster.

    Maybe you attended WOWZapp or Pure Imagination and you haven’t had a chance to sit down and publish that app yet.

    Maybe you’ve had an app idea in your head that you haven’t had time to code and publish yet.

    Regardless, exams will be over soon (Yay!) once you’ve celebrated that last exam with your friends and head home you may find yourself with a perfect window of time to finish up and publish that app. Why not take advantage of the December Developer Movement Challenge! Publish as many apps as you can from December 6th to December 31st, 2012. The more apps you publish, the more draw entries you get, and the more chances you have to win the Microsoft 64 GB Surface! To qualify you must be registered for the Developer Movement, but why wouldn’t you register? The Developer Movement gives you points for every app you publish, heck you get 1000 points just for registering. You can cash those points in for rewards. So even if you don’t win the Surface you still get cool stuff for free!

    So if you’ve started an app, or wanted to start an app, now’s the time to get it into the store. Why? With each app you could:

    Check out our Windows 8 Resources page for tips on how to get started, how to get your free student Windows 8 account, how to add a privacy policy so your app doesn’t fail certification, and more…good luck and happy coding!

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    Tips and gotchas for Windows Phone apps:InkSpill


    inkspillThis series features interviews with Windows Phone app developers who share the lessons they learned building windows phone applications.

    This week’s interview features Studio SYD, a software development startup who built a game called InkSpill

    Could you briefly describe your application/game?

    InkSpill is a puzzle/strategy game. The player start at one corner of the board, changes the color of the block to “spill” over the neighboring blocks with the same color. Once the blocked are spilled over they become a part of the Player’s blocks. Strategy is employed where the Player is competing for board space with the AI, which starts from another corner of the board.

    Did you use XNA, Silverlight or both?

    Although currently our game doesn’t employ much Silverlight component, in the future when online gaming functionality is added, UI component such as text input box for user name and password, ListBox for gamer listing, etc. will be desirable. Meanwhile XNA provide the performance boost which is much needed when we are fading hundreds of block simultaneously. This is the reason we use both XNA and Silverlight in our game.

    What was your banging your head against a wall moment?

    While not really to the point of banging our heads, some seemingly small issue such as page transition, grid layout mechanism, background music playing, etc. did give us some headache and frustration.

    Did you ever solve that issue?

    For page transition, we actually rolled up our sleeves and created our own page fading transition mechanism. It might not be that elegant but it works. A closer study of the sample XNA project on MSDN gave us the answer to the audio play back problem. And the “a-ha” moment for the grid layout issue didn’t come until we attended the WOWZAPP hackathon.

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

    Although a finished project, there are always many refactoring waiting. And we ARE going to make these refactoring when we implement our 2nd version of the game, where online gaming will be added. Some focus will be: separating the core game logic with UI functionality more nicely to ease porting, improving the state machine implementation on XNA page, etc.

    Any nice surprises?

    The space ship tutorial on MSDN does speed up our understanding and using of XNA. It’s easy to follow and covers most of the essential part of XNA, very nice tutorial, much recommended.

    Did you leverage the mobile platform?

    Our game started its life on Windows Phone. Does that count as leveraging?

    Did you leverage the touch screen?

    The gameplay is tap-tap-tap!

    Did you have a favorite feature?

    As mentioned, there was some issue with performance as we needed to flip hundreds of blocks at the same time with Silverlight, in the end we used XNA to solve the issue.

    What is one thing you think you did really well in this application?

    Our game concept isn’t new. However, we did reinvent the gameplay with the multiplayer.

    Are you publishing your application/game?

    Yes it has been published. Here’s a link to the game at the Marketplace:


    Where can I learn more about your app/game?

    Yes and no. We are scrapping our old site and rebuilding a new site for the new version. Here’s the Facebook page for the time being:


    Who developed this application?

    We are Studio SYD, made up of developers who share the same passion about entrepreneurship, mobile technology, programming, and building new and interesting apps/things. We are based in the Vancouver, Canada area. InkSpill is our first game and we are now exploring social gaming with it.



    If you are a Canadian don't forget to register for the Developer Movement so you get rewarded for your published app! If you are a student consider entering your app in the Windows 8 challenge of Imagine Cup!

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    Waterloo WowZapp Microsoft Worldwide Hackathon


    3617.image_0BF73627Waterloo WOWZAPP 2012 was an amazing experience! We were thrilled to see the creative work that people came up with in less than a day’s work. Our advertisement efforts successfully reached out to almost 70 students including nearby colleges.

    We started the event with a brief presentation on Windows 8 tools and development environment. A lot of people were given the Windows 8 Camp-in-a-Box kit to get them acquainted with development in Windows 8 and Visual Studio. We manage to retain around 40 people late in the evening. We ordered almost 200 slices of pizza and saw it all magically vanish in four minutes! Wow! Students are certainly a hungry set of people. The event had to officially pause at 1:00 am due to university policy however, several people took it upon themselves to spend the night and continue the development. This was a pleasant surprise when we arrived the next morning and we were amazed by their enthusiasm.

    Saturday had approximately 30 attendees. By this time, everyone was dedicated and had a solid idea for their app. Some of them wanted to continue to learn and work on the tutorials and a few people showed up at the end for the app presentations because they were curious to see the hackers’ hard work. People started understanding their way around the different tools and started getting more comfortable with the APIs which generated excitement through the event as we partnered with the UW Mobile Club and a student group on-campus working on making more data open on api.uwaterloo.ca. This was inspiration for many great app ideas for University of Waterloo students.

    At 5pm, we collected all the apps and asked the groups to present them. Check it out here! During the presentation, Harris Rasheed said “We are supposed to find the top three out of this?! This is torture”. Rewarding only the top three groups seemed too little! We awarded two Windows Phones to the top two groups, Convertr and Sneak Peek. Rudi Chen kindly offered to donate his own Arc Mouse as a reward to the third group.

    The event was a great success and we are looking forward to hosting the next one!


    Unit converters are the most common type of apps on App stores; no surprises there. However, Converter is not your average unit converter. It doesn't require you to specify the target unit but rather, it will make an educated guess on what you want and it's quite extensive! This makes the app very convenient to use. The app also implements Modern UI design guidelines very well, featuring semantic zoom, search contract, an excellent use of screen estate. Made by Richard Ye and currently available on the Windows Store! Be sure to download this steal.


    Sneak Peek allows you to watch recent movie trailers. After only 24 hours of work, the app is already an excellent example of clean and functional design, with a background somewhat reminiscent of the red tissue found in movie theatres. Made by Alexandru Blidaru and Darien Morris.


    Recipe Box features virtual cards on which you can write down recipes. The design and colors are well chosen and navigation between different parts of the interface include smooth and fluid animations. The designers have, in their limited time, managed to complete features such as the search contract. Made by Jack, Ewin and Michael.


    A grand total of ten Windows 8 and one Windows Phone applications were created. We were absolutely astonished by how incredible some of the apps were considering the sheer amount of APIs and concepts such as asynchronous calls that need to be learned to make apps. Especially in one day!

    Sudoku Solver does exactly what the name says. This app was put to the test and the developer issued an open challenge and sure enough, it solved the world's hardest problem in a matter of seconds. A number of applications made use of data from University of Waterloo Open Data Initiative, allowing them to perform functions such as finding the number of parking slots left around campus, navigating maps of campus buildings and finding unbooked rooms to study in, which, as a student, I find very practical. Equally useful are grading apps that, among other things, compute weighted averages, which can be done in fewer clicks and keystrokes than it would normally take me to do in a spreadsheet. Todoodle is a to-do list apps that makes good use of W8 APIs and is both aesthetically pleasing and practical to use; different items can be dragged and dropped across various categories. Resume Presenter displays your skillset, experience and qualifications in a modern UI style, which is an interesting way to visualize achievements.The creator, Michael Craddox, suggested that it could be used on a tablet in an interview.

    If you are a Canadian don't forget to register for the Developer Movement so you get rewarded for your published app! If you are a student consider entering your app in the Windows 8 challenge of Imagine Cup!


    MSP’s Waterloo  Rudi Chen, Harris Rasheed, Piyush Gadigone

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