Today my 42nd app is live in the marketplace, and I had lots of fun with this one. It's the Metro Web Browser, and for now you can download a free trial. Go get it!
The browser has a lot of features that I won't get into here, but its main reasons for existence are to:
- Give back your screen real estate!
- Give you the same features in landscape that you get in the portrait orientation (typing URLs, managing favorites, settings, …)
- Support an orientation lock (handy for bed-time browsing)
The Internet Explorer app has quite a bit of chrome in portrait mode. The Metro Web Browser, on the other hand, provides a full-screen experience in both orientations. In the portrait orientation, this gives you 24% more page than IE, as demonstrated in the following image (with red and green emphasis added):
In Metro, you flip to the "actions screen" to do all your non-browsing stuff and external navigation. You can do this by tapping on the translucent arrow overlay shown above, but you have other options, too. You can change the position and appearance of the overlay (turn it into a page curl, for example), or you can even remove it altogether and shake your phone to switch between the browser page and the actions screen! This app is packed with features as well as customizations to those features.
I'm sure full-screen browsing won't be for everyone, but I think it's a nice option to have on your phone. Enjoy!
Almost everyone who has done some WP7 development has run into this problem and has eventually figured it out, but I thought I'd try to help people find the answer a bit faster.
The problem: Instead of seeing your icons on the appbar, you get something like the following:
The cause: This happens when the image file's build action is not set to Content (assuming you have already included the image file in your project and have set IconUri to the correct path and file). This is a very easy mistake to make because Visual Studio chooses a default build action of Resource when you add images to your project.
The solution: You can each file's build action to Content in Visual Studio's Properties window:
Each listing in the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace has a list of required capabilities. (Capabilities are permissions granted to apps that users might object to, such as the ability to make a phone call or access your media library.) These capabilities are automatically determined by the certification process, regardless of what you list in your project's WMAppManifest.xml file.
There's one exception to this, however. I could not figure out why basically every app in the marketplace claims to make use of your phone's data connection. This includes all of my apps, despite the fact that most of them do no such thing. It turns out that for this (and only this) capability, the certification process does pay attention to what you have in your manifest!
In WMAppManifest.xml, this capability is called ID_CAP_NETWORKING. If you don't need it, remove it! The tricky thing is that you need this in your manifest in order to debug your app on a physical phone, so it can be easy to accidentally leave it in there.
Looks like I have about 30 XAPs to resubmit. Hopefully you'll read this before submitting yours, so you can get it right the first time.
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Now you wait. Lately it has been taking more than a day for my apps to actually show up in the marketplace once they reach this milestone. Searching/browsing doesn't initially find the app, and following its deep link gives an error message in Zune that says, "ERROR. THIS ITEM IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE AT ZUNE MARKETPLACE." Don't panic! In my experience, I've seen my app appear 1-3 days later with no further action on my end. And it seems to show up under its category in Zune a little before search finds it. It also takes additional time to appear in the phone's Marketplace app.
Office Clip Art has to be one of my favorite pieces of software. No, it's not because of lame, cliché clip art like the following:
(Although I sometimes like using such clip art in team-wide status mail in order to be ironic.) Office Clip Art has a lot of good art (and a lot of bad art, too). When I needed to create lots of graphical buttons for Microsoft Popfly's Game Creator, Office Clip Art was a huge, huge help. Many of my Windows Phone 7 app icons were also inspired by Office Clip Art. I've spent lots of time (too much time) perusing the clip art catalog, so I'm more familiar with it than most. I get a kick out of recognizing pieces of clip art when people use them. This happens a lot. Not just on paper signs used by local small businesses, but on banner ads and websites for Fortune 500 companies!
Therefore, I was a bit intrigued when Apple unveiled the new iTunes logo. I knew it reminded me of a series of Office Clip Art icons (there are many icon sets that share a similar style), and I was pretty sure there was even one with a musical note in it. Sure enough, there's a somewhat-similar icon, although with a different musical note. If you combine it with another piece of clip art, you get pretty close:
Then again, there are also pieces of Office Clip Art that are similar to the old iTunes logo, so I'm not sure who is mimicking whom:
(I'm just joking, by the way. I'm sure that Office Clip Art was not involved when Apple designed their icon!)
Ahh, the App Hub. It's where you submit your apps for the Windows Phone Marketplace. Given that I've got more than a few apps in the marketplace, I now have a lot of experience dealing with it. I want to share some tips and info with you, so hopefully your experience will be as smooth as possible. Don't get me wrong… I love Windows Phone 7 and I greatly appreciate everything that works well with the marketplace process. But it's a brand new site and process, so there are a bunch of gotchas to be aware of. It's clear to me that the App Hub will continue to improve, and it already has since I started using it, so I'll try to update this post as things change.
The theme of this post is get it right the first time!
- The process can be very quick. Some apps of mine have been live in the marketplace the day after I submit them. It has usually taken 2-3 days, and sometimes a week.
- The PNG upload process is slick, as you get an instant preview on the page after choosing each file. (Although sometimes the file-choosing dialog doesn't remember my current folder, which gets old really quickly.)
- All screenshots (up to eight) are visible at the same time in your app listing in the marketplace, so you don't have to stress as much about which screenshots should be your first few.
- The app testers seem to be really good. In my first submission of Crayon Cannon, they caught a light-theme-only bug, in which my Instructions page rendered white-on-white text. In my first submission of Lottery Numbers Picker, they caught a bug in which tapping the "pick" button twice within a short span caused the app to crash. Good stuff!
- When your submission fails, the detailed test results can be pretty nice. Although the whole download-a-PDF thing is overkill for me. Just tell me in the email notifying me of the failure, please!
- There seems to be no limit to the number/length of keywords you can associate with your app. (BUT see the first bullet in "The Bad" for the rest of this story.)
- Your keywords do not yet seem to be used in Marketplace searches (or anything else). Add to this fact that you can't do app-only searches on the phone (your results get polluted with music) and the lack of auto-completion in the search box, and you get a situation in which your apps can be hard to find. I'm still waiting for a "magic" search to bring up my Pick a Card magic trick app. Instead, I get a LOOONG list of artists, albums, songs, playlists, and some magic 8 ball apps. (I don't have such an app… yet! :)) I hate to suggest this, but you might want to make your app names more descriptive to combat this. For example, I'm thinking about renaming "Pick a Card" to "Pick a Card Magic Trick." I suppose that could/should help its ranking in a "magic" search, even if keywords were respected.
- You can't cancel/edit a submission that is currently being tested/reviewed. You have to wait until your app passes or fails first. Therefore, get it right the first time.
- When you update your app, there's no separate spot to describe what has changed. You can only pollute your main description with this information.
- When you update an app that has failed, you have to go out of your way to resubmit it. For some reason, the wizard only lets you "Save & Quit" after setting the price when resubmitting a failed app. You must do this, then go back to your entry (now marked "Submission in progress"), press Next on every page of the wizard, then this time you can get to the final page that lets you resubmit. Be careful to notice when this happens, as I unknowingly had some apps sitting around for a few days waiting for me to take the next step.
- Your list of apps is a bit hard to manage. Once you choose an internal "application name," you can't change it. Although you can update your public-facing "application title" at any time, it's annoying to be stuck with the old names in your list. You also can't delete an entry without it being sent to Microsoft and have it either pass or fail. I created a "test" entry under my account and I can't get rid of it, unless I waste a tester's time by submitting a bogus XAP that I know is going to fail!
- If you want to make any change to your marketplace listing (other than the price), you must do a whole new submission. This means getting your app re-tested, with the time delay associated with that. (Your exact same app could even fail testing the second time, due to tester differences or policy changes. This has happened to me more than once.) You must even bump up your version number (in the marketplace, anyway… your app binary can be the same) because App Hub doesn't allow uploading a new binary without a corresponding version number update. (That would be sensible if you weren't forced to resubmit a binary all the time.) All this for just fixing a typo in your description, changing the category, updating the icon/screenshots, etc.! Remember, get it right the first time. And although you can update the price without doing a resubmission, you have no way of adding any text to the description like "SALE… THIS WEEK ONLY!" without doing a resubmission. Also, according to Gergely in the comments, once you change a paid app to free, you can't change it back. I haven't verified this.
- When you update a submission that has been published to the marketplace, you have to fill everything out again, and you can no longer see the content from your previous submission. Therefore, be sure to open the details in a separate tab/window before starting your update! If you didn't previously open your submission details, you probably won't remember your list of keywords and will have to brainstorm new ones. You can retrieve the other information from Zune, although you curiously cannot copy/paste text from it. Along these lines:
- Remember to reapply your chosen category so your app doesn't end up in the default Games category!
- If you have an internal "application name" that is different from your marketplace-visible "application title" (not recommended), remember to reapply your desired title each time, because it defaults back to the application name every time!
- Remember to reapply your price, so you don't accidentally start giving your app away for free! (Yikes!)
- Avoid marketplace icons with transparent backgrounds. Although using a transparent background is desirable for your app's real icon (I'll elaborate in a different post), bad things happen when you upload images with transparency to the marketplace. Especially because a typical app icon is all-white. The Marketplace app on the phone gives your icon a black background, which looks especially goofy under the dark theme, and Zune does nothing, which means you typically get a white-on-white icon. So what should you do? You could come up with some colorful icon that doesn't match the built-in apps. In my case, for the apps where I wanted to keep the simple-white-icon look, I hard-coded the default blue accent color as the background, just like the icons on this blog. I find this regrettable, however, as the icons you see in the marketplace don't necessarily match the icon you'll see once you install the app. (I could have gone with the grey background applied to app list icons, but I'm holding out hope that a future version will allow accent-colored backgrounds for app list icons.)
- The images downloaded to the phone's Marketplace app have compression artifacts. The icons usually have noticeable artifacts, especially for the simple-geometric style of icons used by most Windows Phone apps. (Photographic icons, such as the one for Subservient Cat, look fine.) Screenshots have this problem, too. Everything looks great in Zune on the desktop, however, as it looks like it's using your original PNG files. There's really nothing you can do about this.
More Notes About Updating Your App:
- When updating your app, the site's pages still say "submit new app." Don't worry about this.
- After submitting an update, the details shown in the App Hub are still the old details until your submission has passed. Don't worry about this either.
- When you update your icon or other artwork, it takes awhile to see the change in the marketplace. It takes especially long on the phone's Marketplace app… sometimes over a week after the updated submission is live! Don't worry, the updated artwork will eventually appear!
- By the way, updating your app does not appear to reset its ranking, nor does it clear/hide past reviews, nor does it cause it to show up as a "new" app. This all makes sense. It's unfortunate that old reviews are not tagged with the relevant version number, though, so it's probably a good idea to call out fixes in your description that address complaints from past reviews.
- If you choose to upload the 1000x800 background art for the Zune client, give it its full contrast. Don't worry about the visibility of text on top of it, because the Zune client places it under a translucent background. You might as well upload an image, as it makes it eligible for being featured specially in the phone's Marketplace app.
- Apps marked "testing in progress" seem to sometimes jump to the top of your app list when something happens, even though there is no visible change in status.
- When first uploading a XAP, the size is shown in bytes, but when you revisit the page, it is shown in KB. In the past, this has made me nervous and I've re-uploaded the XAP, but there seems to be no cause for alarm here. :)
- When looking for your app to appear in the marketplace, don't rely on seeing it at the top of the "new" list. In fact, as new apps get added throughout the day, they seem to be added after apps that were added earlier in the morning! (@Arktronic believes that the ordering is based on the submission date rather than the publishing date.) I'm also suspicious that the first four "new" apps on any given day are hand-picked, since they get featured more prominently elsewhere. My Lottery Numbers Picker app was once featured as a "new" app along with another lottery-themed app, so that seemed like the result of human involvement. On the other hand, yesterday my geeky XAML Editor app was featured as a "new" app, which would have been an odd choice for a human to make.
A Guide to Your App's Status:
For my own apps, I've seen the following:
- Submission in progress. When you see this, the ball is in your court to complete the submission! As I mentioned earlier, there's a condition where you think you might be done but you see this instead. If you see this, select the "edit application" action and finish it.
- Ready for testing. Your app is now in the queue. I normally only see this for less than a minute, and then the status switches to the next one.
- Testing in progress. This is where you do the most waiting. As I mentioned earlier, you cannot do anything to your submission during this step.
- Testing failed. Oops. There will be a PDF you can download that explains the problem, sometimes with very helpful steps to reproduce the problem.
- Ready for signing. Your app has passed; it just needs to be signed before it's ready. Sometimes this has taken more than a day. I'm not sure why this would take so long.
- Ready to publish. You see this when your app is ready but you opted-out of automatic marketplace publishing. This status provides a "publish to marketplace" option, so you can time your release for a specific date.
- Published to Marketplace. It's live! It might take a little while before you see it show up in Zune, and a bit longer (half a day?) before you see it on the phone's Marketplace app.
- Application removed by Microsoft. Your app got flagged for a policy violation. Your only possible action for this state is "contact support."
- None. This was a temporary glitch.
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I love the iPhone. Before getting one, much to my wife's chagrin, I could never force myself to keep my cell phone with me. Because there are so many things I love about it, I was uneasy when I decided this spring that I'd be switching to Windows Phone 7 when it came out. But I made this decision because I planned on developing apps for it and writing the Windows Phone 7 book.
I've gotten a chance to use a Windows Phone 7 for a while, and I've been using many of the apps that are now out in the marketplace. Honestly, I'm surprised by how much I like the phone. So much so, that temporarily switching back to my iPhone felt like a downgrade. I did not expect to feel that way. Sure, there are many annoyances (such as the Marketplace app) , but I greatly appreciate:
- A Mail app that actually works really well. It blows the iPhone Mail app away, despite not having threaded conversations. I've been using the app for Exchange, Hotmail, and Gmail as three different tiles, and I love it!
- Seeing the next meeting & mail status (per account!) on the lock screen.
- The behavior of the keyboard (caps lock, seeing letters in lowercase or caps, the text suggestions bar, …).
- The cool "I'm running late" functionality.
- Live tiles.
I'm looking forward to having a good Weather app that exploits this. The WeatherBug app is a great example of this feature. My iPhone home screen, on the other hand, always tells me it's 73° and sunny. That permanent forecast might work out okay in Cupertino, but it's rarely accurate in Redmond! :)
- Zune Pass. Actually very nice!
- The truly excellent Facebook and Twitter apps. The Facebook integration into hubs is cute, but certainly no replacement for the full Facebook experience. My biggest gripe about the Facebook app is that it currently doesn't show you who likes things.
The application bar automatically makes your white-on-transparent images white under the dark theme and black under the light theme. You can accomplish this same effect with your own custom images, without relying on custom code to swap images based on the theme (although that works, too).
The trick is to use the image as an opacity mask for a theme-colored element, such as a rectangle. For example:
The Groceries app uses this technique to make all of its non-application-bar images show up nicely for both themes, for example:
Be aware that opacity masks are expensive performance-wise, but for small, static content I think you'll be just fine.