Susan IbachTechnical Evangelist
Microsoft Student Partner Alaa Shaabana from the University of Windsor shares what he learned building his first Windows phone app Runner Pro
Check out more tips from fellow students here.
Could you briefly describe your application/game?
It is a completely free and ad-free application to help users follow the couch to 5k running program. It uses auditory and visual cues to tell the runner when to jog and when to walk during an exercise. It also has access to the user's music collection and gives the user the ability to skip or pause any song when they wish.
Did you use XNA, Silverlight or both?
The app uses both XNA and Silverlight. Although for XNA, it only uses a small portion, as it needs to access the XNA framework in order to get to the music collections.
What was your banging your head against a wall moment?
My biggest bang-my-head-against-a-wall moment was when I was attempting to use a third party database to keep track of the days that the runner has done so far. I only discovered that software was deprecated and that Mango had already come up with a database implementation (of sorts), I was definitely banging my head against a wall... or two.
Did you ever solve that issue?
I did, but I did not add the database to the application yet. I plan to release that functionality in an update in the near future.
If you had to build this same app again from scratch, what would you do differently?
I would re-do my User Interface. It is very basic compared to many applications out there. Although it accomplishes the purpose of having a great and lightweight application, it's not as pretty as it should be. UI updates are also on the map of future updates.
Any nice suprises?
Yes! How easy to access and manoeuvrable the Music + Videos hub is. It was very easy to retrieve song name, artist and album arts, and a feature that I had set aside a whole day for, took less than an hour to build.
Did you leverage the mobile platform?
As I've mentioned before, this is a lightweight and basic application that is meant to be a foundation for a much larger application coming soon. I have already started implementing the GPS to keep track of runners if they were outdoors, as well as the accelerometer to keep track of steps!
Did you leverage the touch screen?
Did you have a favourite feature?
Yes! I discovered that there is a way to program a tile to keep updating the user while tomb-stoning the program. This is really cool! It lets me keep the user posted without bothering them during their run!
What is one thing you think you did really well in this application?
I would say they are two interrelated things. First and foremost, this app is TINY! It takes almost no-time to download, while at the same time it delivers what every other running app out there delivers, for free! No ads, no fees, no nothing! Just sport!
Are you publishing your application/game?
I have published it. It's called Runner Pro, and it's been released under the name of Shabby.
Where can I learn more about your app/game?
Unfortunately, no websites or videos yet. But those are coming soon!
Who developed this application?
I am the only developer of this application. The main reason that it's still a little basic and small is because I haven't had as much time as I should for an application. I am a first year Master's student at the University of Windsor, I plan to expand this application very soon, and make a business out of it to help pay for my schooling! While still delivering the best software that I can to my users!
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.
Five-Part Series on Metro Design
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ultimately, 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:
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!
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.
Full 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 .
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.
$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.
So 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:
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.
There 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:
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:
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.