By way of Glen Gordon: Two great community guys – Chris Eargle and Chris Williams - are setting up community led Windows Phone Garage events next week in Columbia and Greenville. Remember, at a Windows Phone Garage you get instruction on the basics of creating Windows Phone apps, but also you get a lot of time to build your app, with help from onsite experts. In addition, one attendee who showcases his app (in development or complete) at the event will win a free Windows Phone device! Register ASAP and make plans to attend this free event. Columbia, SC – Thursday, June 16 at Midlands Tech Greenville, SC – Friday, June 17 at Immedion Unfortunately I won’t be there as we’ll be in Florida doing our Azure Tech Jam events, but the events are in great hands with Chris2.
In a few weeks, my colleagues Glen and Joe will be in Charlotte (and a few other locations around that time) holding their successful Windows Phone garage events. The latest event is coming to Charlotte on May 24th! Here’s the breakdown: 9 – 10 am Introduction to Windows Phone Development No experience with Windows Phone 7 development? No problem. During this optional session at the start of the day we will cover the fundamentals of Windows Phone Silverlight and XNA Development. We'll explore the various core components and tools available, and leave you with some resources to take you to the next level. 10 – 10:30 am What’s new for Windows Phone Developers This session will highlight some of the new developer features coming for Windows Phone Developers. We’ll also take a look at AppMaker, a new dynamic new tool that enables you to generate a simple Windows Phone application from one or more online data feeds. 10:45 – 12:30 pm Windows Phone Application Jumpstart To give you a jumpstart on app development, we’ll walk through in detail building an app, styling it, and adding advanced capabilities. We’ll also cover submitting it to the marketplace and monetizing your app. 12:30 – 1:00 pm Lunch 1:00 – 5:00 pm Windows Phone Garage Open Lab Bring your laptop fully loaded with Visual Studio 2010 and the latest version of the Windows Phone Tools. Get some help with an app you are working on, or use the information from the Jumpstart to build an app around your favorite data feed. No ideas? No worries – we’ll have a few starter templates that you can build on. Other dates: New York City May 3, 2011 Cambridge, MA May 9, 2011 Alpharetta, GA May 19, 2011 Charlotte, NC May 24, 2011 Malvern, PA May 24, 2011 Tampa, FL May 26, 2011 Chevy Chase, MD May 26, 2011
Ah, closer to launch and more apps in the marketplace than a single byte could hold! This is my personal look at what’s hot and what’s not in the phone marketplace. Surely I’ll miss a few things but hopefully will catch them next time. What’s Hot: Netflix (Entertainment), free Really not much more to say, is there? Browse titles, view your instant queue, play back, etc. It’s clean and simple. What I haven’t done is tried to use this over 3G while in a moving car, as we all know streaming can be painful in these situations. I did try 3G streaming while in downtown Atlanta (where I typically have excellent 3G coverage) and it worked great. If the phone had video out, this would be incredible. Cocktail Flow (Lifestyle), $2.99 (no trial) This is simply the best app to date for mixed drinks/cocktails on the phone. Functionality is all you could want: you can look up drinks a number of ways, and even select what you have in your cabinet and it will tell you what drinks you can make. The graphics are beautiful … negatives: it doesn’t have a trial, and doesn’t seem to support themes. Magic Black Ball (Entertainment), free This is one of the 5 8-ball apps already in the marketplace. Virtually none of them have trials, and this one is free but ad supported. This one seems to be the nicest one of the group, and the graphics are decent/authentic and the answers are what you’d expect (for example, one of the other 8-balls only gives you yes/no answers). Sudoku! (by SideJob / Games), $0.99 (has trial) This is my favorite Sudoku game on the phone, with “Sudoku” by Reflection IT coming in second. Both are capable, but Sudoku! seemed more natural to play, supports zoom and different puzzle sizes. Both have a trial, so check them out and see which one you like better. What’s Not: I actually decided to erase this part because I felt calling out the shops doing what I consider “lame development” will be obvious over time and I didn’t want to give them free publicity. One approach a shop has taken has been to charge 99 cents for some lame app and offer no trial, so there is no way to review the app unless you purchase it. The developer has purchased their own app, and leaves it 5 stars pretending to be a real customer. Those going by ratings alone and not realizing it may purchase a lame app. In these cases, I think developers deliberately don’t put in a trial to avoid a flood of poor ratings. In fairness, many developers are responding to questions others have left, and since there isn’t an option to leave “no rating", you’re kind of stuck. I and others have done that, but hopefully we make it clear that it’s the developer responding to comments. But that’s not what I’m talking about – I’m specifically referring to shill / fake reviews by the developer, like, “This app is AWESOME! It ROXXX!! A+++++ … clearly the best in the marketplace today!” … c’mon. It’s almost amusing to look at the same user leave the same glowing feedback for all the apps their “company” puts out there. Conclusion: check out the reviews. If there is no trial and no (or limited) feedback, realize you are rolling the dice.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here’s what is catching my eye this week in the phone Marketplace: Shazam (Music & Video), Free Sample a few seconds of a tune, and Shazam uploads and parses what tune you’re listening to. Pretty cool. I’ll be honest, I’m much more interested in this technically than practically, wondering how the algorithms work, fuzzy matching, etc. Practically speaking, I would get a lot more use out this if radios didn’t do the “song ID” thing that is prevalent in most modern radios. Since it’s free, it’s a must download. Flight Control (Games/Strategy, Xbox Live), $4.99 (has trial) Lots of fun! You basically pilot an onslaught of aircraft and drag them to a landing strip. The game is surprisingly fun – but, what I like most about it is that it feels like it’s made for the phone – the touch interface is great. While it is upgraded from the iPhone version to contain achievements, the $5 price tag seems a bit high. BowlingXX (Games/Sports & Racing), $1.99 (has trial) The first bowling game for WP7. What I really like about the game is the controls. You can swipe your finger to set a ball path that determines trajectory/power/spin, or use the accelerometer and bowl “Wii-style.” This game would be a lot of fun to have online multiplayer, however for the price tag that’s not too feasible. OpenTable (Lifestyle), Free Great way to pick a restaurant last minute. Not too much in my local area, but I live in the sticks so I didn’t expect much. Nice, clean interface. The Eye (Games/Puzzle), $0.99 (has trial) Built by ‘softie Michael Hawker, a VERY tough puzzle game. :26 seconds is my best time, but it was purely accidental. The game has gotten a few criticisms of being too tough, but then again, so is the Rubik’s Cube. Essentially the game contains two outer rings that change color when you tap the inner ring. The idea is to rotate and change the colors until they are all the same solid color. It took me a little while to get how the game works, but I like the simplicity. BluesBox (Music & Video), $1.29 (no trial) This app has two strikes out of the box: no trial, and a (at first glance) vanilla interface. The single screenshot doesn’t help much. But, to see this in action, see this YouTube video. Looks cool! Think Guitar Hero with a bit more musical control. I think it’s worth the price of admission and seems like a lot of fun, but Mat needs to offer a trial and, since I’m sure this will sell pretty well, use the first couple hundred bucks to hire a designer :) Drum Machine (Entertainment), $0.99 (has trial) This app and BluesBox can team up! Actually, while Drum Machine isn’t quite as engrossing (IMHO) as BluesBox, DiNoGames nailed the interface and options, and was wise to include a trial. It’s pretty fun! Next time you want to nail someone with a “Ba-da-dum” you can either use my app (SqueakBox) or, drum it out yourself with Drum Machine.
This post has been updated on 21-Oct-2010 with new information contained in the last paragraph. Most developers realize you can bring in revenue through advertising, and the Microsoft Ad Control lets you do that easily in your Windows Phone 7 application. For most simple apps, you might offer a trial version that is fully functional but supplemented with ads, and a paid version that is ad free. Or you might just make your app free, supported only via ads. This is what I wanted to do with SqueakBox. I’m beginning to rethink this approach, though, and I’ll explain why. Before I explain why I’m rethinking this decision, let me explain why I thought this would be ideal. First, I’m a big believer in having trial versions of applications. This is proven with Xbox Live. To make it super simple, there is a trial API available. So this might sound harsh, but I don’t think there is much excuse for not providing a trial when it is so easy to do. I will say this: providing a trial does open you up a bit more in the ratings, since anyone will be able to rate your application. To make the trial better, I figure it should be fully functional and supported by an ad so there is no time bomb, etc. Regular users would rather pony up the 99 cents to get rid of the ad, while someone else would be content with seeing the ads – either way, the developer and the user wins. Above is a picture of the app running with the test ad (bing). If the user has the full version (IsTrial==false) we want to remove the ad – in order to do this, you must completely remove the ad control from the visual tree… you can’t just set it to disabled, set its visibility to collapsed, etc. I realized this after using Fiddler (as I mentioned in my last post) – essentially, the ad control continued to request ads even when disabled/collapsed: Obviously, this isn’t what you want to do in the full version! Fortunate that is an easy fix by removing the control. The next one, unfortunately, is why I might go back to the more traditional trial model. In the marketplace, applications list the capabilities of the phone they use. When I saw the app published, I noticed this: Whoa! Owner Identity and Phone Calls? No I don’t. Seeing an app that uses the sensors, media library, push notification, etc. – that sounds cool. But owner identity and phone calls? That sounds disconcerting to me. It turns out this is from the ad control. What does owner identity mean? I don’t know. This might be benign, like, “the ad is able to set a cookie that can identify the phone” – perhaps if you click through an ad that takes you to the marketplace, it has to know it’s *you*, so that’s what it means? Maybe the phone calls is for ads that allow you to make a phone call – like Bing 411. As the developer, I don’t know, and the user certainly wouldn’t know. (I got one factual but unhelpful internal reply which basically said, “developers can use another ad provider if they don’t like it.”) (Read 10/21 update below.) Users have no way of realizing this isn’t required in the paid version, so I’m left with a choice of leaving it in figuring users won’t really care, or taking it out to remove the requirement. What would you do? Other than the phone capabilities piece, the ad control is super nice and easy to integrate. [Edit] One thing I do want to point out: showing the features that an application uses is really a great idea. I don’t know how this works on other platforms, but seeing up front that an app needs access to data, sensors, etc., is great. [EDIT 21-Oct-2010] I just received an update from the Microsoft Advertising adCenter team. The Ad Control doesn’t use Owner Identity, and instead uses anonymized profile targeting parameters – such as age/gender). Also, it doesn’t use the “phone calls” feature but does use the dialer in “click 2 call” functionality (as I suspected). They are working with the marketplace team to get this updated so the capabilities list isn’t as alarming – when/if it will be changed? I’m not sure. So while the end user experience is still what it is, this is good info and was I happy to get the correct information.
On an internal alias, Eric Lawrence chimed in on setting up Fiddler for the Windows Phone 7 emulator. This is really useful, of course, for monitoring traffic to/from the emulator … since so many apps are use data services, this is a must have feature. The first step is to set the local machine as a proxy … in the IE LAN settings (or via the control panel) like so: In the Fiddler options, configure the Fiddler listen port and allow Fiddler to accept remote connections: In my app (SqueakBox), I display a user guide as a web page. I made this choice to facilitate changes (much easier to publish a new HTML page!) … if I open that page up in the emulator: I can see the traffic in Fiddler: Success! In my next post, I’m going to discuss two snags I ran into with the Microsoft Ad Control – one of which I discovered while using Fiddler.
While I spend most of my time focusing on Windows Azure and cloud computing, naturally as a developer evangelist I need to dive into Windows Phone 7. I had an idea for an app (not overly original, I admit) and thought I’d explore developing this in my spare time. The result is an app called SqueakBox and it’s currently up in the Marketplace. So what’s this app? It’s pretty much the next gen of fart apps. Instead of just flatulence (which I never really found all that funny, but they are in there), the app would focus on sounds effects for different situations. My personal favorites are the crickets (great for meetings during long periods of silence) and the police siren (never fails to make the adrenaline of the driver skyrocket). While the idea isn’t incredibly original, I wanted the implementation to be best in class. I implemented a ton of different play modes. It can play on a timer, it can play when the device is moved. But more interestingly, it can play when the room is quiet, and you can play sounds remotely through squeakbox.net. You can loop sounds, create a playlist, and fiddle with knobs and dials like delays, backgrounds, etc. In total, there are about 65 sound effects. But wait, there’s more! :) In all seriousness, I get a bit annoyed by seeing these 99 cent apps that play ONE sound (there are already plenty of them in the marketplace). Not much of a value, in my opinion. So, I put a clip recorder in there so you can record your own clips, or import your own using the Zune library. If you see a cool clip on freesound.org or elsewhere, you can bring it in. So while I’ve done my best to get a well rounded collection of sounds, there might be something you want to include – so go for it. Sales pitch over. I’m going to create a new series of posts on some of the development challenges and document them here. In the first post, I’ll discuss setting up Fiddler and the phone ‘capabilities’ that applications will use. Stay tuned.