How to begin? Windows 8 Development

Ok. I convinced you in my last post to do some Win8 development. You want a piece of that cake, or whatever your reasons may be. Good! Welcome to the club! Now let me ask you a question: what are you going to write?

Ah. That’s the big one, isn’t it? What indeed?

If you have been creating applications for computers before you’re in for quite a shock. The way people perceive apps on a tablet is quite different from what we know as applications. There’s a reason we call them apps instead of applications! Yes, technically they are applications but we don’t call them apps only because it sounds cool. The abbreviated form of the word applications itself is a pointer. Apps are small. Apps are focused. Apps are more lightweight. Apps do one thing but they do that one thing extremely good.

In the ‘old’ days we wrote huge systems. We build ecosystems of services, screens, databases and more to create a system that provides value for the user. Think about it: what application do you use most at work? Can you in one sentence describe what it is, or what it does and yet still distinctively describe its purpose? I doubt you can. Let’s have a look at Outlouk. We all know it and we all love or hate it. But what is it? A mail program? No, there’s so much more there: calendar, contacts, RSS feeds and so on. Some call it a ‘collaboration’  application but that’s not really true as well. After all, why should a collaboration application give me my schedule for the day? I think the best way to describe Outlook is “client for Exchange”  although that isn’t accurate either. Anyway: Outlook is a great application but it’s not an ‘app’ and therefor not very suitable for WinRT.

Ok. Disclaimer here: yes, you can write big applications for WinRT. Some will. But that’s not what 99.9% of the developers will do. So I am stating here that big applications are not meant for WinRT. If 0.01% of the developers think that this is nonsense then they are welcome to go ahead but for the majority here this is not what we’re talking about.

So: Apps are small, lightweight and good at what they do but only at that.

If you’re a Phone developer you already know that: Phone apps on any platform fit the description I have above.

If you’ve ever worked in a large cooperation before you might have seen one of these before: the Mission Statement. It’s supposed to be a oneliner that sums up what the company is supposed to do. Funny enough: although this doesn’t work for large companies it does work for defining your app. A mission statement for an app describes what it does. If it doesn’t fit in the mission statement then your app is going to get to big and will fail.

A statement like this should be in the following style “<your app name> is the best app to <describe single task>” Fill in the blanks, write it and go!

Mmm.. not really. There are some things there we need to think about. But the statement is a very, very important one. If you cannot fit your app in that line you’re preparing to fail. Your app will become to big, its purpose will be unclear and it will be hard to use. People won’t download it and those who do will give it a bad rating therefor preventing that huge success you’ve been dreaming about. Stick to the statement!

Ok, let’s give it a try:

“PlanesAreCool” is the best app to do planespotting in the field.

You might have seen these people along runways of airports: taking photographs of airplanes and noting down their numbers and arrival- and departure times. We are going to help them out with our great app!

If you look at the statement, can you guess what it does? I bet you can. If you find out it isn’t clear enough of if it’s too broad, refine it. This is probably the most important step in the development of your app so give it enough time!

So. We’ve got the statement. Print it out, stick it to the wall and look at it. What does it tell you? If you see this, what do you think the app does? Write that down. Sit down with some friends and talk about it. What do they expect from an app like this? Write that down as well. Brainstorm. Make a list of features.

This is mine:

  • Note planes
  • Look up aircraft carriers
  • Add pictures of that plane
  • Look up airfields
  • Notify friends of new spots
  • Look up details of a type of plane
  • Plot a graph with arrival and departure times
  • Share new spots on social media
  • Look up history of a particular aircraft
  • Compare your spots with friends
  • Write down arrival times
  • Write down departure times
  • Write down wind conditions
  • Write down the runway they take
  • Look up weather conditions for next spotting day
  • Invite friends to join you for a day of spotting.

Now, I must make it clear that I am not a planespotter nor do I know what one does. So if the above list makes no sense, I apologize. There is a lesson: write apps for stuff you know about….

First of all, let’s look at our statement and then go through the list of features. Remove everything that has nothing to do with that statement! If you end up with an empty list, try again with both steps.

  • Note planes
  • Look up aircraft carriers
  • Add pictures of that plane
  • Look up airfields
  • Notify friends of new spots
  • Look up details of a type of plane
  • Plot a graph with arrival and departure times
  • Share new spots on social media
  • Look up history of a particular aircraft
  • Compare your spots with friends
  • Write down arrival times
  • Write down departure times
  • Write down wind conditions
  • Write down the runway they take
  • Look up weather conditions for next spotting day
  • Invite friends to join you for a day of spotting.

That's better.

The things I removed could be pretty useful to a plane spotter and could be fun to write. But do they match the statement? I said that the app is for spotting in the field, so “look up airfields” doesn’t belong there: I know where I am so why look it up? And the same goes for inviting friends or looking up the weather conditions for tomorrow. I am at the airfield right now, looking through my binoculars at the planes. I know the weather now and I don’t care about tomorrow.

If you feel the items you’ve crossed out are valuable, then why not write another app? One that says “SpotNoter” is the best app for preparing a day of spotting with my friends. That’s a different app! Remember: Win8 apps are small and very good at doing ONE thing, and one thing only!

If you have made that list, it’s time to prepare the navigation of your app. The navigation is how users see your app and how they use it. We’ll do that next time!

Print | posted @ Saturday, June 23, 2012 11:05 AM

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