Last year on April 10th, I released App Spotlights. The primary goal of App Spotlights is to help developers; the app notifies them when their apps are in the spotlight in any of the 129 markets worldwide. The app also helps to analyze the competition. In addition, you can obtain the history of when your apps have been in the spotlight since February 17th, 2013.

After one year, my database has more than one million spotlighted apps. Throughout the year, the #1 complaint from users was that sometimes they saw their apps spotlighted on their phone, but App Spotlight was not reporting their apps. I explained to each user that Nokia had their own spotlighted apps (for Nokia phones only), and that I did not have access to this data.

Every day, I have a service on Microsoft Azure that fetches the data from http://www.windowsphone.com/store for each market.

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In order to access the Nokia data from Microsoft, you must log in with a Nokia phone.  As Microsoft Azure is a cloud service, it is impossible for it to log in as a Nokia phone, and therefore I am unable to fetch the Nokia spotlight data. I should write: “I was unable to fetch”… please read on.

Featured applications

Recently, I had an interesting discussion. I learned that each day Nokia can choose up to half of the featured apps for their Windows Phones in each market. Please note the word featured: when I started fetching the spotlighted app data, I was aware of featured apps, but I was a bit confused about the difference between featured and spotlighted. Now I know the difference.

The Spotlighted apps are a combination of the Featured apps and Featured games. You can see the links (you can replace the en-ca with any market code:

The spotlighted apps use the first few apps from the featured apps and featured games. As you can imagine, the big tiles on the spotlight page generate way more downloads for the first few apps than the last few apps.

When you open the Store application on Windows Phone, there is a major spotlighted app.

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This app is not featured anywhere on the Windows Phone website. This spot will have the biggest impact on your download count than any spotlight spot. Good luck getting there!

With more than one hundred markets, it is hard work for Microsoft and Nokia to decide on the featured apps. For key markets such as USA, UK and France, the featured apps are chosen manually. For small markets such as Kenya, the featured apps are based on an algorithm.

What’s new for App Spotlights

I’m pleased to announce that I have found the secret to obtaining the data for both the Microsoft and Nokia featured apps and featured games along with the big spotlight in the Windows Phone Store without relying on the Windows Phone website.

Starting today, App Spotlights fetches and displays the full list. The change has been applied on the backend only, so your app doesn’t need an update. Every day, you will have all the information about when and where your apps are featured. For the moment, App Spotlights doesn’t tell you if your apps are featured with Microsoft, Nokia or in both places. This feature might come later!

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Since the arrival of the Windows Phone, the Canadian evangelist team has offered great promotions each year to entice developers to create apps. In my opinion, their promotions for Canadian developers are the most attractive worldwide. This year the Developer Movement is back. To make things a little bit different, they have a new theme: Don’t just code… Code Kwondo.

You can watch three funny videos: Introduction, Strength, and Focus.

If you need convincing that apps will give you money, please take a look at the rewards list. The list is quite impressive. If you didn’t click the link: what about an Xbox One, Surface 2, ASUS Zenbook, GoPro HD, Dell Ultrasharp, etc…

If this is not enough, I have more good news for you: you can also participate in the DVLUP challenges. In other words, it is perfectly legal to do one Windows Phone application and submit it to the Developer Movement and DVLUP.

Masters of Code Kwondo

Now that my introduction about the Developer Movement is done, I can introduce you to the application Masters of Code Kwondo. In truth, it is two applications: one for Windows Phone and one for Windows. The purpose of the application is to showcase the list of applications that Canadian developers have made during the Developer Movement. The Canadian population is small compare to the United States, but we have good developers like Brock (over 600 000 XP on DVLUP) and Atley Hunter (over 400 apps), just to name two. In the app, you’ll also discover “Code Masters”, those people can help you if you have development issues.

Message to the Canadian developers: if you made applications any time after November 2013 and they are available in the store, please give me the name of your applications using my contact form. It will be a pleasure to showcase your apps in Masters of Code Kwondo.

At the beginning the list of apps will be short, but don’t worry, the Masters applications will notify you when new apps are added.

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Masters of Code Kwondo

Happy coding and get rewards!

 

Two weeks ago, I submitted a Windows Phone app for certification. Twenty minutes later, I received an email saying my app had passed certification. I shook my head and couldn’t believe it. When the app was available in the store an hour later, I thought that Microsoft must have had a bug in the certification process. For months, the processing time for apps had been 4-5 days. The next day, the Windows Phone blog published a post explaining the new process. It cleared up my confusion.

For every change that Microsoft does, there are always people who will complain. Personally, I was extremely happy with this change. When I submitted my first app in January 2011, it took me a full week to obtain the certification result. Unfortunately, my first submission didn’t pass. I’ll always remember that the failure was due to an issue that occurred after 17 steps. The tester actually wrote those 17 steps down for me. I was impressed that they were so thorough. I knew they were also attentive to whether an app would work well in the light and dark theme and that the hardware back button needed to work perfectly.

Many updates and new apps later, I found myself getting more and more impatient to get the certification results. It is always wonderful when certification is successful, but when it fails, I had the impression I was losing two weeks. The wait was sometimes even more problematic if an app had a recurrent crash that users were facing and the testers didn’t catch it. It is stressful and you feel powerless. Contacting Microsoft to speed up the process was impossible, because an external agency deals with app certification.

If a developer is serious about marketing a new app, he will be careful and he is most likely to beta test his app with users/testers. If he doesn’t care about testing his app, he might get punished in reviews and ratings. It is not because an app is free that users decrease their expectations. Users don’t hesitate to raise their voice when issues arise.

For these reasons, I prefer that apps get approved quickly and I feel it is the responsibility of the developer to make his app shine with few or no hiccups!

What are your thoughts?

PS: The process doesn’t to apply to every new app and update yet, but it will soon. Be patient!

 

One of the challenges of a developer is to promote his applications. For the last three years, I have been active with the developers especially with the Windows Phone expertise. I have seen countless of Windows Phone links. Last year, on my favourite social network Twitter, they introduced a feature that lets you preview an image with a fixed size directly on your twitter feed. In January, I was pondering how to take advantage of this new feature. I came up with a simple idea, which became App Promo.

App Promo has two goals. The first one is to help developers promote their applications in a more attractive way than simply providing a download link. The second is to help people download an app more quickly. I find that downloading an app via a QR Code is both convenient and fast.

I have created two applications one for Windows and one Windows Phone. Both applications have the goal of creating a promotional picture for a Windows Phone app. Each version has its own advantages.

App Promo for Windows

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Features
• Share the promotional pictures using the Share charm
• Share the promotional pictures into disk
• Background color can be changed
• A custom URL can be used in the QR-Code

The Windows Store version is FREE. You can pay to remove ads.

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App Promo for Windows Phone

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Features
• Share the promotional pictures on Twitter and Facebook
• Share the promotional pictures with installed applications
• Retrieve the promotional pictures from your Camera Roll

The Windows Phone version is FREE. You can pay to remove ads.

App Promo

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This year was one of the most exciting years of my life.  I released two successful Windows Phone apps (DualShot and App Spotlights), I became a daddy to a beautiful little girl, and I left the status of employee to create my own company.  I was also awarded the titles of “Microsoft MVP: Client Development” and “Nokia Developer Champion”.

At the end of the year, my first contract will have finished. Working from home is a great experience, and I really enjoy it. I thank my friends at RedBit for this opportunity.

Moving forward into 2014, I am principally searching for Windows Phone and Windows 8 app contracts. I am also happy to work with more traditional projects, such as those built with WPF.

My professional and personal app portfolio can be found on LinkedIn.

You can download my résumé (PDF | Word).

Thank you
Sébastien Lachance

Update: I found a 3-month contract on the development of a Windows Store app. I started the new year on a good note!

 

The process of creating an application does not only involve developing it. As discussed in a previous blog post, the marketing is a crucial aspect. There is another important aspect that we tend to avoid or not taking seriously enough: the testing phase, which I call the beta phase.

No matter which platform you build your app for, you need to test your app at some point. Yes, you worked really hard for many weeks and months on your app. Yes, you know your app by heart. Yes, it is bug free.

I don’t want to disappoint you, but there is always a little something that you didn’t think of, or a special usage scenario you didn’t pay attention to.

I speak from experience. I have submitted apps without doing a beta phase. I have also submitted an app where a crash could be easily reproduced. It is nothing to be proud of, but at least now, I do a beta phase.

True fact: developers are not good testers.

Before we released DualShot, we ran a beta phase.

So, how do you attract testers?

  • Contact your friends
  • Advertise on social networks that you are looking for testers. In my case with DualShot, I tweeted about it at two different times.

Believe me, you’ll get testers pretty easily. People are curious. Depending on how well known you are, you can keep track of the emails manually like I do or you can share an Excel sheet or use MailChimp like one of my friends does.

Unless you pay the testers, don’t expect to get feedback from everyone. This is normal, so don’t take it personally. Sometimes it is just not the tester’s type of app, or perhaps they are just too busy.

Tip: I use BugSense to keep track of crashes and I use Flurry for the analytic events. I highly recommend using these services (or any equivalent services) during the beta phase. As I previously mentioned, you might not get written feedback from all the testers, but at least you’ll receive traces of what they did with your app.

During the beta phase, the tester can provide feedback about the user experience (UX). As a concrete example, in DualShot, Vincent designed the following page:

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I really liked this page and I didn’t see a problem using it. When I submitted the beta to my testers, in the same evening, three users complained that the UX was really bad. It was clear to us that we needed to put more work into that view. We ended up with the following design:

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Unless you have the complete Windows Phone collection at home, you are most likely going to have only one or two devices to test with. When you have testers, you increase the chances that the app will be tested with many different Windows Phones. Don’t assume that all Windows Phone 8s from different manufactures behave the same. In DualShot, the image capture with some HTC 8XT (only this model) does not work. We didn’t have a tester with this rare device and Murphy’s Law struck again.

Not only will the testers find bugs/crashes and give you feedback, they will often give you two thumbs up. It will give you the extra energy to polish your app before certification.

Windows Phone

If you are developing a Windows Phone app, you are lucky because the Windows Phone team developed a feature in their portal where it is easy to run a beta phase. Essentially, you publish an app as if you were submitting it for certification. However, the app is kept private for the testers that you have specified and the certification passes automatically in the subsequent two hours.

In the Windows Phone developer portal, you need to select Beta as the Distribution channel, then you enter the list of tester email addresses (using a ‘;’ between addresses).

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After that you can fill out all the info and screenshots.

Tip: avoid flooding your testers with daily emails if you submit a new beta every day. If you submit an update, the tester will be notified via the Store Live Tile. Take advantage of this automatic notification to enter all the new features/bugs into the app description. The first time that you send the deep link of the beta app, you can tell your tester to check the app description when a new update is available.

Windows 8/8.1

Unfortunately, in the current Windows developer portal, it is not possible to easily distribute an app to testers. You need to create a package and send the package to your testers. The testers then need to manually install the app. Hopefully the Windows team will soon mirror the awesome work of the Windows Phone team.

Conclusion

I know the feeling when an app is finally complete and ready to be submitted for certification. It is so tempting to submit it right away in order to see it live in the store ready to be downloaded. Please resist this temptation and do a beta phase. It is better that your friends find the problems than strangers, as strangers will most likely give you a 1-star review if they find a bug or a crash.

Develop, test and release!

 

My friend designer Vincent and I decided to share the story of our latest app DualShot. The goal is not to be show-off. We want to show diverse statistics that can help analyze the Windows Phone market and encourage other developers and designers to continue providing quality apps.

Before starting, DualShot has two restrictions:

  • It is only available to Windows Phone 8 devices.
  • It requires a back and front face camera. In other words, the most popular devices the Nokia Lumia 520 and 521 cannot download the app, because they don’t have a front face camera.

Statistics

The launch date was September 16th. The download count surpassed 100 000 on October 15th.

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Data from the Windows Phone dashboard

It’s not a big surprise that the peak arrived close to the launch date. DualShot received a lot of good press from many Windows Phone websites.

Here is the top 30 markets. We were quite surprised that India and Thailand arrived on the second and third spot despite the fact that DualShot was available in English and French only at launch. The two biggest continents with the most users are Europe and Asia.

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Complete list

Here is the percentage usage per device. There is no doubt that Nokia is dominating the Windows Phone market. The non-Nokia device with the biggest market share is HTC with 5.3%. Looking forward, I’ll be curious to see how the Lumia 1020/925 will evolve. Their percentages are low because they are new and not available worldwide yet.

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Data from Flurry analytics service

Concerning the reviews, there is a clear relation between the number of reviews and the downloads. The American were the most critics about our app!

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Data from App Spotlights

Pre-launch

Developing an app is one step, but advertise an app is another step. I’m not a firm believer that submitting an app without talking about it that the app will become popular.

The day before the app went live, we contacted a lot of editors and friends. A full day can be easily spent sending all the information.

For those who noticed, we created a little teaser on September 26th. It turned out that the one-day teaser worked well.

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Post-launch

At this point, this is where the team has less control. It is the turn to the public to decide about the success of the app. It is also on the hands of the editors if they want to talk or not about the app. This is the most exciting and stressful period where the team awaits the result.

In the case of DualShot, we were very happy with the first days following the launch. In reality, it surpassed our expectations.

We were proud to appear twice on Windows Phone Central:
http://www.wpcentral.com/dualshot-lands-windows-phone-store
http://www.wpcentral.com/dualshot-windows-phone-preview

We were delight to see a YouTube review from our friends at WinSource:

We had a review on a Microsoft Canadian website and many more sites.

Ranking

Having a lot of tractions at launch caused a positive domino effect. The more an app is downloaded, the more it appears on different categories. At some point DualShot was the top New+Rising app in USA.

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A week later, the download count probably caused a trigger on the algorithm of Microsoft to display the spotlights. With the help of my app App Spotlights, I was able to detect that DualShot was on the spotlight of many markets on October 4th.

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Later on, we had one occasion with the big spot in the USA spotlight page. We can see the effect on the graphic at the top of the blog post.

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So far, we had a lot of exposures:

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Conclusion

While we didn’t make any money from releasing DualShot because we made it free, we had so much fun following the launch. It surely motivates us to create more Windows Phone apps. Now that the Windows Phone market is not small anymore, we see a lot of opportunities and we encourage developers and designers to jump in. You can also be surprised with the result.

Have you create a DualShot photo yet?  If not, go download and share your creation!

Download from Windows Phone Store

 

Your app is feature complete, here is what you should consider before sending it to the certification. Add a page that contains at least three sections:

  • About
  • What’s new
  • Credits

About

About 1

The first goal of an about section is providing a way to your users to connect with you. For DualShot, I provide diverse links. The important one is Support & Feedback. It opens the mail editor. I take the opportunity to enter information that might help like the current version of the app, language and the phone model.

Mail

Providing a way to contact you won’t prevent all bad ratings, but it will save you some if you respond accordingly.

In the list above, there is another interesting link called User Voice. User Voice is a website that provides a (free) service where user can enter anonymous feedback or bugs. Their website is very easy to setup and use. I have seen a lot of apps having a User Voice link. Even the Windows Phone developer team has a User Voice page.

What’s new

About 2

There are a lot of applications that provide updates, but often we are not aware of what’s new. Sometimes, they put the update description into the app’s description, but the second you click update you don’t have access to the description in one click, you need to find the app into the store. Starting with my app DualShot, I will provide a what’s new section for my future apps. Not only it tells the user what’s new, but it can help the user to discover features that are maybe not obvious at first sight.

Credits

About 3

Open your Windows Phone solution and check the references for each project. Do you see a lot of 3rd party libraries? The answer is most likely yes. Would you be able to release your app without using any free 3rd party libraries? I’m sure you can, but it would take a lot more time. Reinventing the wheel is probably not your motto neither. That’s been said, with my latest applications, I took the decision to thank the people bind the libraries. It doesn’t cost a dime to give a two thumbs up for the creators. For each library and translator, I put a link to their website or Twitter handle. After I released my app, I tweeted to each of time and 80% replied back.

You never know what you can expect: four gentlemen offered us to translate the app for free. It was my pleasure to put their names into the credits section.

Don’t worry, you won’t get hurt in the rating for putting a credits section. I have receive a lot of good and very bad reviews, but I never receive something related to: “Huh, your app suk and your credits too”.

Conclusion

Take the extra 2-3 hours to provide for your users to connect with you and thank the person who helps build your application directly or indirectly. If you provide updates, add a what’s new section.

 

Last week, I had the honor and privilege to be elected as a MVP Client Development.This award goes to people that have contributed to the community for the last twelve months in diverse ways. It is awarded every three months.

The Microsoft definition is:

The Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award is our way of saying thank you to exceptional, independent community leaders who share their passion, technical expertise, and real-world knowledge of Microsoft products with others. It is part of Microsoft’s commitment to supporting and enriching technical communities. Even before the rises of the Internet and social media, people have come together to willingly offer their ideas and best practices in technical communities.

My definition is shorter:

Love what you do, share what you know and make new friends.

I would like to thank all my developer friends and Microsoft employees who nominated me.

MVP

 

I’m happy to announce the release of DualShot.

DualShot is a fun camera app that creates a single photo from the back and front cameras.

The app is FREE. Please try it and share your creations!

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Official website

Download from Windows Phone Store

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