Susan IbachTechnical Evangelist
I know you love challenges, so here’s a pretty sweet one.
Develop and publish two quality apps for Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” and get a free Windows Phone device along with a chance to be featured on the MSDN newsletter and the MSDN website.
Nope, you didn’t misread or misunderstand any of that. What you just read, literally translates to:
And as an added bonus, the tools and the marketplace registration are free of charge to you through DreamSpark.
So let’s recap that just one more time. Get the development tools for free. Get on the marketplace for free. Claim your free device. Get a chance to be featured on the Microsoft Developer Network. And last but not least, make money with your published apps.
I told you it’s a sweet one! Now let’s get started.
First, head over to DreamSpark to get the Professional Edition of Visual Studio 2010. Sure you can use the free Express Edition of Visual Studio, but why settle for a lighter edition, when you can have the professional at no charge? Simply associate your Live ID with your school email and you’ll have access to not just Visual Studio Pro but all of the software available through DreamSpark. The marketplace registration fee will also be waived through your DreamSpark account.
Next, head over to the AppHub and grab the latest version of the Windows Phone SDK. With the Windows Phone SDK 7.1, you have all the tools you need to develop apps and games for the Windows Phone platform. While on the AppHub, you might want to setup your marketplace account.
Be sure to take advantage of AppHub’s rich education catalog to help you get going with your own apps. The education content includes everything from simple code snippets to complete games, so be sure to reuse as much code as possible.
As you develop your two (or more) apps, keep the quality checklist in mind. Your app should be well designed, usable, stable, engaging and social. You can check out some existing marketplace apps for inspiration on the Windows Phone Marketplace. Or check out a select bunch here. You should also bookmark this list of resources.
When your apps are ready and published, don’t forget to submit them here. If you have any questions, be sure to get in touch with us here or here.
Oh and one more thing. When you finally get your Mango device, be sure to celebrate by making a Mango smoothie.
By now, many of you have probably seen the news that carriers around the world will start pushing updates very soon and through the next couple of months. It’s exciting because many that have seen and used the Mango update for Windows Phone in its beta format have seen it to be a very usable, interesting and viable platform that rivals any of the mobile platforms out there today.
Like you, I’m excited as well. I have been running the beta (build 7712) version of Mango on my own phone since around late July and it’s made me much more productive on the go.
So, with all that said, when can you expect the Mango update to be released by the 3 major carriers supporting Windows Phone in Canada? The answer is “soon”. I can’t tell you the exact date because that is something that is managed not only by Microsoft but also by our carrier partners, so saying a date right now on this blog would make a commitment not only of Microsoft but of our carrier partners as well. I can tell you Canadian users waiting for Mango will get it in the publicized timeframe that Eric Hautala statedin his post (which I linked to above), however.
What can you expect in your Mango update? Well, here’s a few of the features that I love:
So where can I check in on my update and scheduling by my carrier? As with previous updates, Microsoft will hold the latest information on the Where’s My Update page on the Windows Phone portal. Right now (as of the publication time and date of this post), there’s 3 updates listed, all showing “Delivering Update” status. As an FYI, none of these updates are Mango (7008 was the initial test update from January, 7390 was the NoDo update in March which introduced copy and past among other things and 7392 was a security update from April that fixed a certificate issue).
So stay tuned and rest assured that the Canadian carriers supporting Windows Phone will be pushing out your update in a timely fashion!
So what really matters when you finish your program? Is it the diploma or degree? Is it what you learned in class? Is it your extracurricular work? Your work experience? All those pieces fit together to form your resume. But how do you stand out to an employer? How do you get that interview? How do you get the job.
Of course the answer is: it depends. It all helps. Having a diploma or degree tells an employer you have specific skills you learned during your courses, you can learn new concepts and technologies, you can manage your time effectively, and you can finish a major undertaking (your degree or diploma program). Don’t underestimate the value of proving that you can learn new technologies to a potential employer. Do you know what programming language I used on my first job? COBOL! (Yes I am old, but not THAT old), then I used Oracle and PL/SQL, then it was SQL Server and T-SQL, then it was C, then it was VB, then it was VB .NET, then C#, now HTML5. The point is, the technical skills you gain in school may help you get that first job, but your ability to learn the next technology will keep you employed in the future.
I was in the Bronx in New York, presenting at NPower (a really cool organization that provides IT training to underserved young adults). I met a student who was telling me how she felt she hadn’t performed well at her summer job, because when she arrived on the job she was told to do something in SharePoint. She hadn’t worked with SharePoint before and so she found some videos on Youtube and some training materials online and had to teach it to herself. She felt that because she didn’t have the right technical skills for the work assigned, she was letting her employer down. Absolutely not! Let me tell you, I wanted to hire her on the spot! Let me explain why.
She showed initiative and used the resources at her disposal to accomplish the task at hand. Sometimes there is someone in the office who can give you training, or sometimes you can take a course, but sometimes that simply isn’t an option. In her case the only training available to her was what she could get online for free. There was no professor to walk her through it step by step, she had to find the information on her own and teach it to herself. I can’t tell you how many times during my career I have been faced with similar situations. There are some people who will simply freeze up in that situation and do not know how to cope. They need someone to sit down with them and show them how to do the work. When I find someone who has that ability to learn something on their own, that stands out!
Students are great at learning! You are constantly absorbing and applying new information. That is what you are doing in every course, in every lecture, with every assignment. That gives you something to offer that is a particular strength to students. If you want to stand out from other students, show you can learn on your own.
How do you do that? One option is to build a phone application. I am going to suggest specifically building a Windows Phone Application, and not just because I work for Microsoft. You can download all the tools you need at App Hub, and as students you can even download the full version of Visual Studio development tool for your development at Dreamspark. One of the great things about developing for the Windows platform is you have access to such a great development environment. Visual Studio is a mature development tool so you can get your code written and deployed sooner because a lot of the little things are taken care of for you. If you have talent in graphic design you may also want to download Expression Blend so you can create your own 2D and 3D graphics as well. There are also lots of great resources out there to help you learn how to build an application, Paul Laberge put together a great page of resources to get you started. We’ll be providing even more resources to help you as the year progresses. Imagine giving a potential employer a link to a windows phone application you put into the marketplace on your resume. What you learn now in your courses is important and will get you a job. But learning how to learn on your own will give you a career!
Fall is upon us and school is in high gear. Now that you’re settled in your courses, it’s time to look for further opportunities outside of the academic world. If you are excited about technology enough to want to join a club or an initiative outside of the classroom, then you should consider the Microsoft Student Partner (MSP) program.
The MSP program is meant to engage and support students who are enthusiastic and passionate about the latest in technology. As a member (a Microsoft Student Partner), you will be challenged to use your knowledge and skills to engage in technology discussions with your peers at your school. You will get Microsoft’s resources and support to lead events, discussions and your own initiatives on your campus. And here at Microsoft Canada, you will have the backing of the Developer and Platform Evangelism team every step of the way.
Think of this as a special opportunity with long term rewards. Hone your skills, build a career portfolio and make connections in a role that is meant to be as fun as it is rewarding. As a Microsoft Student Partner, you will have the unique opportunity to be in the know on the latest inside scoop when it comes to Microsoft’s latest products and opportunities. This is also an opportunity to further your communication and presentation skills.
Oh and, did I mention the many benefits and perks of being a Microsoft Student Partner?
First, who can resist the exposure and recognition on campus with faculty and students? There is a good reason as to why Microsoft Student Partners are often called campus rock stars.
There is, of course, free software. Tons of software! In fact, an entire MSDN Subscription of software that gives you access to the latest and greatest of Microsoft’s products. Along with an unbelievable amount of software, numerous reference materials and training will also be provided.
And it gets better. As a Microsoft Student Partner you will interact with Microsoft Canada’s Technical Evangelists. The Evangelism team will support you through your term and provide valuable insights and connections that you can take advantage of in your academic studies as well as career planning. Speaking of career planning, as a Microsoft Student Partner you will develop real world skills to help you accelerate your future career and help land that important job or an internship opportunity.
Throughout your MSP term you will also receive numerous rewards and incentives for outstanding contribution. These rewards range from stuff you want and love to stuff that money just can’t buy.
Now what about you? Do you live, breathe and eat the latest in technology trends? Do you love sharing the latest in technology with your friends and classmates? Microsoft Canada is currently recruiting MSPs for the 2011/2012 academic year, and we think you should be a part of this exciting opportunity. To get started, head here, grab and fill out the MSP application and return it to us.
Even ten years ago, “experience” was not really something that was given much thought in building software. More often than not the primary goal of a piece of software was simply to display results, or data. How the data or results were displayed was more often a function of technical specifications than it was a matter of user-centric design. That is to say, while the user was often a part of the process of creating specifications for a software solution, the end result was often not differentiated on being tailored to the user, but rather the data. It can be argued that if you polled software publishers ten to fifteen years ago on what user-centric design was, the answer would largely be centered around presenting as much data to a user on a single screen as possible (“less clicks is more productivity”). The end result was focused on process rather than personalization and taking into account how the user works (which is not the same as process).
That line of thinking was certainly acceptable in the past, but things are much different today. As web platforms became richer and aesthetic design became more important to the digital consumer experience, users frankly demanded more of the software they used. Gone now are the days where "battleship grey” is acceptable. Software that is successful in today’s market often makes effective use of user-centric principles including the determination of user personas, natural flow of information, content taxonomies, effective and intelligent use of colour, wireframing and storyboards among other things. Making the right experiential decisions in the software design stage has become just as important as making the effort to test the code prior to flipping the switch on a production instance. If that sounds bizarre, think of it this way: what use is the best, most robust software solution if your users hate the way it works for them? If the user doesn’t buy into it, the software solution has ultimately failed in its objective.
The phone as a platform is no different, especially in mobile platforms that are truly modern and provide great amounts of feature capabilities out of the box (GPS, modern browser, multitasking, notification engines, etc.). The base experience that the platform provides enables software developers to create an even richer, more user-centric experience with the apps that they build on top of their chosen mobile platform. With Windows Phone, Microsoft has built a unique base experience (in Metro) that software publishers can leverage to create applications that truly raise the expectations bar for users and the apps they install on their Windows Phone device. The rest of this post focuses on the things that you as a developer/designer can do to create a truly amazing and user-centric experience within your Windows Phone apps.
Fresh and Simple
Windows Phone represents simplicity in design. When describing the principles of modern Windows Phone design, you may have seen phrases like “fierce reduction of unnecessary elements”, “fast and responsive”, “focus on primary tasks” and “content, not chrome”. All of these phrases revolve around the idea of making it easy for users to find the information they need.
When wireframing your app, think of the following things:
Navigation in your Windows Phone app should respect the flow of the Windows Phone platform. Always use the hardware back button for going to the previous screen and never create a navigation structure that breaks the back button stack. Simply put, this will cause the app to fail certification. It’s also the most common reason why apps fail the certification process in the first place.
Below are some of the more important considerations around Windows Phone app navigation:
Creating a User Journey
It’s one thing to think you have a killer app idea. It’s an entirely other thing whether that idea translates into a popular app. Your intent as an app developer or designer is to create an experience that is lasting and meaningful. Actually, that is the goal of not only mobile app creators but of any app creator in general. Aside from solutions that are considered “one-offs” or temporary solutions, what really drives us all is to create apps that frankly everyone wants. Your ultimate goal for success may differ from someone else (e.g.: “I want to become rich from the revenue from my app” vs. “I want to be popular because everyone downloads my app” vs. “I want to make a positive impact on someone’s life because they use my app”), but the fundamental desire is the same: “I want people to download and use my app”.
So when you are thinking of your app, there are three major questions you need to ask yourself before you hit Visual Studio and Blend:
If the answer to any of those questions is no and your intent is to make your app as popular and relevant as possible, then you probably need to think a little longer on the problem space your app is trying to solve for.
Keep in mind this general mobile app statistic: The average mobile application is opened by a user once. Only around 1% of all mobile apps are used regularly long term.
So how do you entice users to first download your app, then open your app more than once? There is no one right answer, of course, but there are three guiding principles that greatly enhance your chances of getting to that goal: