Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Quick WP7 app development

I have often wondered, with the certification process of a centrally controlled online application database and store principle that is often used right now, if fast reactions to events in the form of a new app were still possible. After all, you cannot quickly hack something together and put it on a website so people can install and use it.

While this post is by no means a thorough treatise of this subject, it does offer one concrete example that shows quick development turn-around is indeed still possible in a centralized store arrangement.

This past week has been a bit of rollercoaster for me, building and deploying a Windows Phone 7 app with background information for the 3D Masters 2011. As a bit of background, I'll sketch a timeline of how this app came to be. All times shown are in 24h CEST and approximate, accurate to within maybe half an hour. Here goes:

  • Fri, Juli 15th, 18:30: Meet friends for diner in Haarlem, before seeing the final Harry Potter.
  • 19:00: Received an mail from 3D Masters about availability of an iPhone app for the event.
  • 20:00: After emailing back and forth a bit with Jeff Barringer during diner, I decided to try and write a WP7 equivalent.
  • 20:50: Harry Potter begins, or rather: ends... ;-)
  • Sat, Juli 16th, 7:00: I start a new blank WP7 solution in VS2010 and get to work.
  • 22:00: Made nice progress. Basic app structure, icons, panorama background, start of About screen and the complete interactive map section are done. Made good progress on starting to capture the manoeuvre and pilot data from the 3DX website into two included XML files. I did do some grocery shopping along the way, so I maybe put in about 13 hours or so.
  • Sun, Juli 17th, 10:00: I return to my 3D Masters solution. Manually getting all the data into the two XML files took relatively long time (most of it during the end of todays session), but I also wrote basic ViewModels, ListBox data templates in my panorama control and all the plumbing needed to get selecting en showing the two detail pages to work. Luckily, showing the external descriptions and the movies just took one Task object each given the URLs in the data I had. ;-)
  • Mon, Juli 18th, 0:30: After completing the XML data and quickly tombstoning the show panorama item (so you return to the one you left after going into detail pages), I call it a night and try to submit my app to the App Hub. With some break time (had to leave that chair some time during the day), I put in about another 13 hours of development time.
  • 1:30: Then I found out that submitting new apps to App Hub was broken, possibly related to the scheduled down time that was announced for monday and is no doubt related to not only the new functionality that has shown up in App Hub, but to the approach of Mango as well. Very frustrated, I gave up, and went to bed.
  • 6:00: Up early for work. Tried to submit again, and got the XAP file and all the meta data in. Dreading that this might be too late, I went to work.
  • 20:00: Saw that app submission status was "Testing in progress".
  • 22:00: Noticed that the App Hub was showing the "down for maintenance" message.
  • Tue, Juli 19th, 17:00: Saw that my blog post was linked from the 3D Masters website, App Hub was back up and the status of my app was now "Certified", which is not mentioned in the App Hub forum thread about possible states.
    Fearing the app might not make it to Marketplace in time for the event, I at least made the XAP available so people with developer unlocked devices could sideload it at least, would that turn out to be the case.
  • 21:30: I noticed an email from the WP7 Marketplace Developer Support telling me there had been a problem processing my app submission. When I checked App Hub however, the status had now moved to Published, leaving me well confused.
  • Wed, Juli 20th (=today), 6:00: I was able to find my app in Marketplace on my phone and download and install it. Victory!
  • 11:00: Started to write this blog post, as I think this whole story might be interesting to some of the WP7 developers out there. Please don't be shy in the comments if you think it is. ;-)
  • Fri, Juli 22nd, 9:00: Start of the 3D Masters event that will end the next sunday around 17:00 in Venlo, NL. Will I see you there on saturday, perhaps?
  • 11:00: Thanks for all your interest; this turns out to be my most popular post since I did that Samsung Omnia Qwerty review two years ago. ;-)
  • Mon, 15th of August: Download numbers seem to start trailing off around 60 downloads.
  • Early november: In fact, the download graph from publishing the app until now seems to have an almost constant derivative until now, just having reached the 200 download mark.
  • Fri, 24th of August 2012: Unbelievable, really. Even though I missed the 3D Masters 2012 deadline (the app still shows hardcoded data from the 2011 event right now), the download graph keeps on going up steadily, now at around 2500 downloads and about 100 active users daily (according to Flurry statistics). Possible this active user bases keeps coming back to watch the movies while practising?

So yes, there you have it. Even though I do not recommend anybody to do this on a regular basis, if you really need to and you maybe get a bit lucky with the time your app takes to run the certification procedure you can have very quick new app results!

In this case that means: some 26 hours of development time, starting a week before app was needed, about 4½ days (or 108 hours) from inception of the endeavour to having the app on my phone, downloaded from Marketplace.

Q.E.D. (now, when was that vacation again...?)

(Oh, and lots of ideas for version 1.1 of course, for the next 3D Masters and other 3DX events...)

Monday, July 18, 2011

MetalScroll for VS2010?

Anyone who, like myself, loved MetalScroll in VisualStudio, knows that with WPF VS2010 it doesn't work anymore. However, there is an alternative: go to Tools, Extension Manager right now and install the Productivity Power Tools for VisualStudio if you haven't already. The Enhanced Scrollbar that is included will probably do what you want.

Next to the Full Map Mode shown above, it has two other modes you can easily switch to using a context menu. There are also some options for the scrollbar that you'll find in the usual place: the ever expanding VS Options dialog.

I think I actually like the Scroll Bar Mode best, as it looks most like a normal scrollbar with usefull pixel pointers on it. Switching to Full Map Mode is always just a right click away when I really need it.

Windows Phone app for the 3D Masters!

Friday night, while having diner with friends before seeing the final Harry Potter movie, I got an email from the 3D Masters organizers that there was an iPhone app containing all kind of useful information.

Of course, this would be of no use to me, as I have a Windows Phone. So I wrote an email asking about the availability of a WP7 app with the same information, asking if it would be ok if I were to write one myself.

Reactions to this were very positive, so I set out to work on it the following morning. At the moment (early monday morning), the app is finished, waiting to be uploaded into the App Hub. Which, unfortunately seems to do nothing but give me errors...

Around 6:00: The next morning the uploading seemed to work. I really hope that the 3D Masters app will still have enough time to pass testing and appear in the Marketplace before the actual event it is supposed to be used at starts, which is in (now) four days.

Around 22:00: Later that same evening the App Hub was down for announced maintenance. Last status update I saw for the 3D Masters app submission was "Testing in progress". This was around 20:00. I will track the progress of the App Hub update and wonder why I will be able to get a status update again...

Tuesday the 19th, around 17:00: Great to see that we are linked from the 3D Master website now. Thanks, Jeff!

However, it is not at all certain that the app will be online in the WP7 Marketplace in time for this weekend; it's status has been "Certified" now for quite a number of hours. As a workaround, I'm making the XAP file available, so anyone with a developer unlocked WP7 device can sideload and already use it right now. So have a look, and be ready for the coming weekend no matter what happens in the certification process.

Tuesday the 19th, around 21:30: Strangly enough, App Hub status now says "Published", even though I got an email saying "We were unable to process the application submission for [app]. An error has occurred with your submission. [etc]", telling me to check the App Hub website.

Wednesday the 20th, around 6:00: I found my app in Marketplace and installed it. If you don't see it yet, that's probably because of the CDN technology that is involved. I know it can take up to even a couple of days before everyone actually see the app in their Marketplace app on their phone. So, unless you get very unlucky with CDN issues, you should be able to use the 3D Masters Windows Phone 7 app this weekend!

Enjoy it, and see you next saturday in Venlo!