3 More Windows Phone Top Tips

Following our recent ‘3 Top Tips’ post, we wanted to talk about three more important aspects of Windows Phone development. Ranging from the practical to the theoretical, these useful steps will make your apps behave better and look great.

1. The Store Test Kit Is Your Friend

Few things are more nerve-wracking for a developer than submitting your creation to the app store, and waiting for approval. What could go wrong? How long will it take?

Luckily, the Windows Phone Store Test Kit has most of the answers. The Test Kit is a handy tool built into Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Phone, and helps you understand your pre-submission checklist, kicking off automated tests and organizing manual tests. The Test Kit covers:

  • Correct capabilities being set
  • Imagery and metadata for eventual store submission
  • Performance of your app on the phone, via the Windows Phone Application Analysis wizard
  • Correct navigation, management of phone events (like incoming phone calls), lock screen behaviour and more

The Store Test Kit should be an integral part of your development and test plan, as it can save you days of suspense and submission attempts by helping you spot and squash problems before you upload to the store.

Go here for a demo of the Store Test Kit in action.

2. Learn the design language of Windows Phone

Formerly known as Metro, the Microsoft design language moves away from superfluous eye candy, instead focusing on accessible, personalized content. Showing only what is useful, and striking out the unnecessary is core to the Windows Phone UI. This does not mean that your screens should be sparse and forbidding – on the contrary. The use of font size, negative space, and alignment together are powerful tools for leading the eye and providing focus and context onto actions and supporting information. Thoughtful combinations of colour, photography and imagery provide meaning to the UI and inject the brand message in a refined way.

Check out this two-part talk from Microsoft’s Jeff Fong for an exposition on the power of the Microsoft design language, and how to apply it in your app.

3. Live Tiles

The link above will also touch on Live Tiles. Live Tiles look great, are genuinely useful and give your app a boost with little effort. Here’s why:

  • Surfacing content: Live Tiles link to content inside the app, and can show the user important information without launching the app. Coupled with the ability to pin and rearrange tiles, a well-designed Live Tile can make your app more useful and valuable, and more likely to be kept at the front of the user’s mind (and screen)
  • Deep linking: You can have more than one Live Tile. Secondary Live Tiles can link to specific pages or reports inside your app. This means that a user may want to pin a section of the app and have a way of a) knowing what is happening in that one section, and b) going directly to that section. This is called deep linking, and is a very powerful way of speeding up tasks for the user and allowing non-gimmicky, actually useful personalization and customization of the phone
  • Push notifications: Live Tiles can reflect information in the cloud using push notifications. For breaking news, unread message counts, and any live, fluctuating data count, you can send push notifications from a cloud service that will update the Live Tile’s counter or background images
  • Scheduled notifications: Live Tiles don’t have to rely on remote server infrastructure. If you are not yet thinking about cloud services and providing push notifications, you can still create useful Live Tiles via a scheduled background agent that can run every half-hour to refresh the data and then update your tile

Windows Phone Geek offer a practical developer’s guide to Live Tiles here.

That’s it for now – thank you for reading, and good luck with your Windows Phone projects!