Have you ever started a weekend hoping to get caught up on projects and instead wind up writing a Windows Phone app? That’s what happened to me a few weeks ago. Before I get into how that happened, let me plug my app.
Easy Soundex is a free app in the Marketplace that generates Soundex codes for surnames for use in genealogy research (learn more about Soundex and genealogy). Check out the Easy Soundex page in the Marketplace for more info and to download the app to your phone. As apps go, it isn’t anything exciting, but it works and does something useful. So you will excuse me if I do the Snoopy dance to celebrate.
So how did I wind up writing an app? The folks at GetGlue were looking for screenshots of their mobile site on Windows Phone. Unfortunately there isn’t any native capability to take screenshots; you have to unlock your phone and load a homebrew app. The Windows Phone SDK (download link) includes a Windows Phone emulator, however, so I installed it and figured out pretty quickly how to get the screenshots they needed.
My social media good deed done for the day, I started poking around in Visual Studio 2010 Express which was installed as part of the SDK. Curious to see just what a Windows Phone app looked like under the hood, I created a new project and found pages with HTML-like markup, typical controls like buttons and text boxes, and C# which wasn’t that different from other languages I’ve used. I decided I could probably put together something basic, and since that sounded more interesting (and fun) than entering receipts into Quicken, I set off on my coding adventure.
First, I gave $99 to Microsoft so I could unlock my phone and be able to publish my app to the Marketplace. I wasn’t going to go through all this trouble and not have someone actually be able to use whatever I create. Once I was an “official” Windows Phone developer, I had to decide what my app was going to do. A Soundex calculator was an obvious choice (to me at least) since the underlying code is pretty simple and someone might need to come up with a Soundex code and only have a phone handy. Stranger things have happened, right?
I worked on and off for the rest of the weekend, and by the time Monday morning rolled around, I had a working app. Most of the time was dealing with getting the interface elements positioned correctly. Getting up to speed on C# wasn’t that bad. As I mentioned before, it wasn’t that foreign, so once I figured out the general syntax, it wasn’t that bad. The IntelliSense feature in Visual Studio really made it easy to find the right elements and reference everything appropriately.
App in hand, it was time to submit it to the Marketplace via the App Hub. I had to submit the compiled XAP file, info about the program (what it does, cost, tags, etc.), icons, and screenshots. About a week after I submitted everything, the app was approved and available in the Marketplace. So far Easy Soundex has been downloaded nine times, so I consider that a success!
So what can you learn from my experience? I’m not going to say that developing for Windows Phone is so easy anyone can do it. If you’ve never programmed before, it is a safe bet you will be completely lost if you jump in like I did. If you have some programming experience, however, and have an interest in mobile apps, download the SDK and give it a try. You’re probably not going to write something like Evernote on your first try (or ever in my case), but you will learn a lot and have some fun in the process. What are you waiting for?