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by Marcus Austin at Firebrand Training
The New Year is always a good time to make a fresh start in life, so why not choose to start this year by creating your very first Windows 8 app? What’s that? You don’t want to have to learn a new language or buy new development tools? Well relax because creating a Widows 8 app is a lot easier, cheaper and quicker to build than you think.
So why build a new Windows application? The answer is ‘it’s a no-brainer because it’s based on Windows.’ There are over 60 million potential purchasers for your app out there already and the potential market is in the hundreds of millions. In January 2012, just 2 ½ years after launch Windows 7 had sold more than 525 million units worldwide becoming the most popular Windows Operating system and from early sales it looks like Windows 8 could achieve the same use base. In the ten weeks since launch over 60 million copies of Windows 8 have been sold, and over 100 million apps have been downloaded from the Windows store with the store growing at over 10,000 applications per month.
Aside from the size of the market, the next the most compelling reasons to develop for Windows app is it uses knowledge and tools you already have, so the time to develop and the cost of development are reduced substantially, compared to other app platforms.
If you’re a Windows developer then you’ll already have everything you need to create a Windows app. Which means there’s no steep learning curve, and there’s no need to spend a fortune on new coding tools. Additionally the apps you produce will also run on the new Windows Surface Pro devices without the need to reformat the design, or change any of the code, so unlike some of the other app markets you get two devices for the same amount of work – you will however need to make changes if you want to build for the Surface RT version.
The code for Windows apps is similar to the way you would code for a Windows program currently, and there are plenty of ‘Hello World’ examples available for you to work through if you’re unsure on the MSDN site.
However where Windows apps do differ significantly from your current development process is in the app planning and design. The new Windows 8 user interface is designed for touch devices, and to make sure that all the apps work in a similar way, all Windows apps need to conform to the new Windows Modern UI look and feel. The good news is while this new look and feel is a lot different from the current Windows look, it shouldn’t take much more than a few hours for you to get used to.
Before you plan your app there are a few good documents that you should read to help make sure that your app looks good and is usable;
The Planning Windows Store apps is a must read. As well as advising on good design for different devices and different markets, it also advises on how to monetise your apps – you’re not doing this for the love of it after all – as well as hints and tips on remaining connected if your app needs a web connection to work.
The Design guidance for Windows Store apps section of MSDN give some user experience guidelines as well as information on how to organise content, where to place your common commands like copy, paste, what commands go in the app bar and what go in charms, along with what touch gestures to use, and where to place advertising if you need it.
As well as reading about good practice it’s probably a good idea to look at some of the well-designed apps already on the Windows Store. There’s a selection of the some of the best designed apps at the Generation App Site or you could look at best apps picked by the Windows Store editors on the Windows 8 apps page.
Once you’ve built and tested your Windows app the next stage is to submit it to the Windows Store for approval – you get a few 12-month Windows 8 Store account with your MSDN subscription. Applications are only accepted to the Windows Store if they’re approved by Microsoft, unfortunately like many other approval processes there’s no set timescale for approval, it all depends on how many apps are submitted and the workload.
The approval process has been designed to be transparent and fast, and the pre-approval tests and checks that Microsoft carry out can also be run by the developer using the Windows App Certification Kit. If your app passes your own test, then it will pass the Windows Store code check, and if it fails then the Certification Kit gives you feedback on where it failed. Aside from the code checks, the full approval process also checks to see that the app conforms to the Windows 8 Modern Design UI, and that it doesn’t contain any potential viruses and malware and this is the part of the testing that could take time.
At the very least you should build in time at the end of the project for a couple of approval cycles, hopefully if you have followed all the guidelines it will be approved first time. But if your app fails you will need time to fix the problem and then resubmit. There’s more on the certification process in the Windows 8 app certification requirements section of the MSDN site.
Finally, the MSDN Dev Centre has a plenty of downloads, features and tutorials that have been written to help you get to grips with Windows apps and help with best practice.