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Windows Phone vNext Collateral Damage – A Developer Story…

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I managed to get hooked into an interesting debate on Twitter yesterday regarding whether you’d advise someone you know to buy a Nokia Lumia 900 with WP8 just around the corner. This conversation stemmed from a local AU tech journalist awarding the device 5/10 in a review and then later mentioning that the impending release of WP8 was justification for this score – not that the device was that bad). The discussion touched on a fundamental topic I’ve had burning in the back of my brain for some time now – surrounding the impact of Microsoft’s Windows Phone vNext announcements on the existing Windows Phone market.

Apple vs Microsoft vNext Announcements..

While progress and new device/platform announcements are generally an exciting thing – we’ve seen a fairly important differentiation between how Microsoft and Apple execute these with respect to their Phone platforms + hardware.

In most cases – Apple keeps announcements completely secret right up until they hold a major news conference – and then when it’s announced – they demonstrate a finished product ready to sell – accompanied by clear and precise launch dates (normally very short time frames) – so customers know exactly what’s going on. Sure there’s a bunch of rumours leading up to these announcements – but generally they are very far off the mark and the public don’t take them seriously until the real announcement is made.

Microsoft Windows phone announcements on the other hand happen quite differently – in that major Windows Phone updates are announced a long time before they are released – and it’s the platform improvements that are shown off with an early reference device. In almost every case I’ve seen – there is no actual hardware announced – only vague release dates for handsets are given, which are normally a long way off (generally 3-9 months staggered across various regions).  Then there’s a non stop barrage of rumours on what’s going to happen / be released – many turning out to be completely true as they generally come from very good sources.

For customers wanting to buy into either of the platforms – Apple’s way gives them a clear decision – ‘Buy vCurrent or wait until next month/week and get vNext’.  Microsoft’s customers on the other hand are faced with the through process of  ‘I’d like one of these now – but they did announce vNext was coming at some point soonish so I’d better wait until then’….


vNext versus the vCurrent App Publisher..

The problem for App developers is that they are only at any point making their revenue based on what’s out there right now and available to the general public – and due to the once off App ‘purchase for life’ model on Windows Phone 7.x – sales are very much pinned to how Windows Phone is doing at retail (and ultimately how many new customers are made available to them over time).

Unfortunately – every time the proverbial vNext carrot is dangled in front of the public – vCurrent handset sales stall – creating more confusion + bringing in less customers – and resulting in reduced App sales.

I’ve been deeply suspicious that this has been going on for a while – and thought I’d chart out my daily app sales in the Australian Marketplace versus the various major Windowsphone events related to me (such as vNext Announcements and then other events specific to me or to the AU Market).

trend.fw

Just to explain the numbers you are seeing above these are the combined total of sales across all mobilewares.net Windows Phone 7 apps in the Australian Marketplace (from Early 2011 through to now).  I’ve been lucky enough to have some of the top selling Apps in Australia over this period (including AU Weather Pro and also a bunch of AU focused Sports titles) – some of them I would like to consider to be ‘must have apps’ to Australians – and am confident a fairly consistent % of new users to the platform will purchase them.

I should also mention that my Apps ranking on the top (selling) charts in AU have been pretty much consistent for quite a while (AU Weather Pro has been top selling non XBLI title for a long time + the sports titles have been the top 3 ranked in their genre since launch)  – so I’m also reasonably confident the quantity of Apps I sell is pretty relatively close to the trend other publishers in this region are seeing.

Due to the commercially sensitive nature of these actual figures – I’ve simply referred to the quantities with a unit system of ‘x’.  Ie. ‘2x’ point on graph is exactly double the amount of units of ‘x’.   The charted line is also a ‘line of best fit’ from the charts produced by the App Hub – the actually line per each day is a very zig-zaggy line – sometimes going below/above the line of best fit due to interim events (like having an App as the ‘featured app of the day’).

Also please note : This is not meant to be a scientific observation – I’m sure those that concern themselves with market predictions and analysis as their full time job have much more sophisticated metrics and models – I’m just going by what I have in front of me..

The Impact of vNext Announcements

From analysing my chart there’s a very obvious effect I’m seeing as a result of vNext announcements/leaks (denoted in the Red Callouts above) – App sales take a swift and sudden downward turn (which I’m very certain is a direct reflection on handset sales).  The three significant events have been the Mango/7.5 announcements, the leaked WP8 announcements late April (indicating WP7 handsets would have no upgrade path to WP8) and then the nail in the coffin the official WP8 announcements in June.

I’ve also mapped out good/positive events on this timeline (denoted with green callouts) – such as new app launches from my company (which of course drive sales), handsets actually being released in AU – and major marketing initiatives namely the Nokia Lumia launch (which was accompanied by a lot of really well done TV advertising and public awareness campaigns).

The disappointing bit is that WP7 really looked like it was taking off this year with the Nokia launches – and was obvious traction was finally being gained.  That sharp rise in market share was however killed with the WP8 announcements (and no actual firm dates for availability) – in an even more comprehensive manner then last years Mango announcements (even though it took Australian’s close on 10 months to actually get local Mango handsets it was only a few features being sacrificed and there was no threat of it being completely obsolete that we face today).

The really bad news for devs… fragmentation is coming to a market near you…

While It’s not hard to deduce that things are not going well for Windows Phone platform (market share wise) – I’m pretty certain things are going to get quite worse in the short to medium term – particularly for App developers.  When Windows Phone 7 appeared and up to now – Microsoft’s overall market share of the phone market hasn’t changed all that much – and what’s slowly happened is the % of WinMo 6.x users versus WP7 users has slowly changed (to today when the WinMo users are only a small percentage – many of them actually going to a different platform altogether).

I think it’s quite possible we may see the same transition happen with WP7 > WP8 users (with not that much change for Microsoft’s overall Smartphone market share) – so for a developer this fragmentation is not great news. Apps designed for WP7 will be faced with a potential user base that’s contracting quite rapidly (of which this started a few months ago) – and apps designed for WP8 will need to wait quite a while for enough customers to appear.

Although not a 100% certainty – my gut feel is that customers purchasing Apps on WP8 won’t be that keen to shell out for WP7 titles (even though they ‘will work’) – and instead will wait for WP8 Apps which take full advantage of the platform/resolution and features. I’d be interested to see what the game sales figures were for consoles which provided legacy support (such as the PS2 allowing PS1 titles to be used) – sure many ‘existing’ owners would have been happy – but doubt many rushed out to buy new PS1 titles to use on their PS2.

As someone who has invested a lot in the Windows phone Silverlight/.NET platform – I’d really hoped to get several years out of the code, designs and infrastructure I’d put together for my Apps (which I’d thought would eventually make the investment worthwhile) – however being faced with starting again from scratch is daunting – not to mention risky as there’s no guarantee Microsoft won’t decide in a year or so that WinRT is also going to be superseded with something else.  Having done quite a bit of WinRT work already (for Windows 8) – I also know first hand that porting/migrating apps from SL on WP7 is not the simple task it’s claimed to be (as the XAML/layout is so different you really need to start from scratch to make experiences which customers really want).

I do realize Microsoft really did need to do a ‘reboot’ on their entire Smartphone strategy – however this many reboots and poorly timed announcements and leaks is not a great thing. Their actual development platform is so much better then anything else on offer (Android/iOS development environment feels like taking a step back into the 90’s) – but without a worthwhile market for devs to sell Apps to – it’s a hard to justify it.

The one shining light is that the Win8 market is hotting up and will help many developers subsidize their WP8 titles by sharing technologies – but time will tell on whether it pans out this way or those devs just focus on Win8 only. I’m still very much undecided on these counts myself – and while I know I’m sure I will release some Apps for WP8 – I doubt it will get the same energy I once gave WP7 – and my focus will be mainly on Windows 8.

Written by mobilewares

August 20, 2012 at 4:45 pm

New Developed Down Under Submission Pages Go Live..

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The official Developed Down Under website went live a couple of weeks ago – and for launch we hadn’t yet added the new developed opt-in/submission process (which was still pointing at the original page on the wpdownunder.com blog). 

So after a bit more tinkering and testing this part of the site is now live too – and should help make the signup quite a bit less tedious and user friendly.

You can check it out here at – http://developeddownunder.com/developers.aspx  – or just click on the ‘submit your apps’ whilst on the site.

New Submission Process Overview

The idea of the new submission forms was to make it a smidgen quicker/easier for developers to include their apps – by adding in a few server side smarts and some more fancy validation of entered information.

One new cool thing is the ability to locate all your apps without having to dig out a Marketplace Deep Link for each and every app you’re submitting. Now on the new signup – need to only provide a single Marketplace Deep Link (for at least one of your apps – even one you aren’t planning to submit).

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Once you provide a deep link – the website will go off behind the scenes to Marketplace – and fetch all your apps (by using the Publisher ID in the deep link you submitted) – and then displays them so you can quickly just tick the ones you want.

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Once you fill out the rest of the information (your name + email are required – website/twitter info is optional) – you are taken to a confirmation page where you can finalize your submission.

Then when you hit the confirm button – we’ll get notified of your submissions and you’ll get notified too via an email.  Note that we will still need 24-72 hours to approve/moderate your submissions before they appear in the catalogue (for those using the DDU Windows Phone app).

 

What’s next for the DDU Website

While there’s no definite timeframes – we intend to start including more features in the website as time permits – such as providing an online version of the catalogue (so you can browse them on the website without the DDU app) – and the ability to find out more about publishers.  

Keep an eye on the website for more..!

Written by mobilewares

May 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Developed Down Under Hits Windows Phone Marketplace

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I thought I’d post something here about a new community initiative relevant to Aussie Window Phone users, developers and bloggers called ‘Developed Down Under’ – which officially went live to the public around 24 hours ago.

dduwidewpdownunder

So What is Developed Down Under (aka DDU)

The idea was originally conceived (just over a month ago) by Scott Sheedy from wpdownunder.com to deduce a way of grouping together and promoting Windows phone apps from Australian developers. Garry Holden from Handiware suggested the name ‘Developed Down Under’ (which we ran with after consensus on twitter).

some of the goals of DDU included

– To improve visibility of App’s on the Windows phone platform that have been made by Aussie Developers.

– To help Aussie Windows phone users quickly find and locate Apps directly relevant to their local Aussie market – and have an easier way of identifying these products when looking at blogs, news sites etc (ie. coming up with a recognizable logo/icon and name)

– And similarly to what is being done with Apps – promoting local Aussie bloggers and news Sites who cover Australian specific Windows phone news.

And an App is born …

Last week the concept evolved from an idea (and a lot of behind the scenes work by Scott) – into a full blown Windows phone app (with inspiration from products like wp7nl, appflow, etc).

This product allows users to view a catalogue of Aussie Developed Apps – and then click through directly to that App’s page on Windows Marketplace (where it can be downloaded/purchased/rated/etc). There’s sections such as ‘Apps for Aussies’ (which filters out a list of apps purely designed for localized Aussie stuff like news, travel, weather etc) – and ability to browse by publisher, genre and get randomly selected ‘quick picks’.

screenshot1   screenshot2  screenshot3screenshot4

On Wednesday night last week – Scott put out a call to all developers (http://www.wpdownunder.com/?p=4639) to nominate their own apps to be included in this catalogue (nb – this is where to go if you want your apps to be listed – it’s a live/online catalogue so we can add you in at any time) . Due to concerns with privacy/copyright issues – it was determined that simply auto including titles may cause numerous issues (and also that there was no simple way to determine which publishers on Marketplace where actually from Australia).

And by Thursday night last week (after I spent a whirlwind couple of days developing it and setting up all the required server side magic whilst Scott simultaneously put together the other required pieces) – the initial app was done and dusted and certified to marketplace.

You can see the App’s product page at : http://mobilewares.net/DevelopedDownUnder-WP7.aspx

Keep in mind of course it’s an initial release (0.9) – and the focus was to get something out there – so lots of bells + whistles that we didn’t have time to include will be added in coming versions.

An Amazing first Day Launch…

Last night (around 8:30pm) – after receiving a publishing success notification from Marketplace in the morning – we noticed the app could finally be downloaded via the deep link – and went live. We timed it with an awesome review from 1800pocketpc.com (who’d been provided with a XAP a few days earlier). You can check it out on the link below (there’s even a video there too of it in action).

http://www.1800pocketpc.com/developed-down-under-one-stop-shop-for-all-your-aussie-app-needs/30239/

Then overnight things went crazy – thanks to the above review, the overall buzz being generated on twitter (under our chosen hash tag #wpddu) – and a great placement in the WP7 new list (the App was actually one of the 4 listed ‘new’ apps on start page of online versions of Windows Phone Marketplace around the world) –  resulting in a huge amount of downloads from all corners of the globe (and that was before the Australians who this app was targeted at had even woken up).

Today (thanks to some awesome behind the scenes PR work by Scott) – we also got plugged on a number of news sites – including a couple of real biggies (that reached out further into the mainstream than we’d ever expected), such as :-

Gizmodo : http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2012/04/developed-down-under-promises-to-make-finding-aussie-made-wp7-apps-easy/

CNet : http://www.cnet.com.au/aussie-app-promotes-local-windows-phone-downloads-339335629.htm

Not to mention some of the awesome WP7 focussed news sites who helped spread the word too over the past week (along with a swag of positive and encouraging tweets in the #wp7au community too) :

Peter’s Kitchen : http://www.peterskitchen.net/?p=7639

WPCentral : http://www.wpcentral.com/developed-down-under-local-marketplace-highlighting-app-aussies

Now nearly 24 hours later – I’m staggered by the amount of people who have installed this app. Even though I have some pretty popular titles in the AU Marketplace (and have had similar in the US before) – I’ve never seen such a large volume of users downloading a Windows phone app before in such a short space of time.

The Developer Response

However – none of this would be possible without the humbling show of support from the Australian Windows Phone developer community – who have been submitting their apps for us to include.

As per the snapshot below from the scorecard – (catch the real live one on wpdownunder.com ) – a few hours ago we were up to 76 submitted apps (from 22 publishers) – well on the way to our first 100.

w7ddu

There’s still quite a few more AU developers out there we would like to get on board (who likely have not heard about it – or were away for Easter break) – and hope they can come in and nominate their apps when they hear about it.  If you’re one of them – please click here to visit the signup page on wpdownunder. It’s free, quick and may be the best thing you’ve ever done for your App (ok that’s a stretch – but you get the general idea).

We’ve also had 3 other news sites/blogs (apart from wpdownunder) providing dedicated Aussie Windows Phone news feeds for us to use in the App (via the aggregated news feed which shows all the content chronologically) – 1800pocketpc.com techin5.com and peterskitchen.com – culminating in the ‘best of the best’ of Aussie WP7 news.  Huge thanks to all of these sites for their support!

The Win-Win-Win cycle of DDU

One of the great things about this initiative (apart from it being driven by an enthusiastic community) is that it’s an all round win for everyone (if it’s successful of course – but looking quite likely from our first day’s feedback/downloads).

I don’t know which comes first (the chicken or the egg) – but the way I see the cycle is :

– More Apps submitted into DDU = more content for users to look at

– More content for users  to look at = more people wanting to use the app

– More people using the app = more downloads/visibility for the publishers submitting the apps

– more downloads for publishers = more apps being made

– more apps being made = more submissions to DDU

and so on and so forth…. (I could quite possibly throw in the More Aussie Apps = More Handsets Being sold type cycle in there too – but you get the drift..)

So what are you waiting for – go and download it now – it’s free!

Anyhow – if you want to check it out – please visit http://mobilewares.net/DevelopedDownUnder-WP7.aspx (for product page and deep links) – or alternatively – point Bing Vision on your Windows Phone to the following QRCode below (and you’ll be taken straight into the app download page in the Marketplace App).

http://windowsphone.com/s?appid=ad55f32c-5dc7-4c1f-a2b3-2b4f49040e9c

Don’t forget to visit http://wpdownunder.com to keep up with news – and share the love on our twitter hash tag #wpddu

And on that note – a massive thank-you to everyone who has supported this initiative with submissions, tweets, words of encouragement, news , downloaded the app!

It’s truly awesome to see the wp7 dev + enthusiast community come together like this for a common goal – and I’m really excited about the potential of where this will all go.

WP7 Sports App Updates (with LMD Support) + some developer thoughts on it all..

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The week before last – I set about updating the WP7 Sports engine that’s used to drive the mobilewares sports apps  (currently using it are AU Footy 2012, AU League 2012 and Sup-Rugby 2012) – and along the way decided that it would be a good opportunity to implement Low Memory Device (LMD) support. 

New Features

Before I go into the LMD thoughts however – here’s some pics of some of the new (non LMD specific) features which these will include (screenshots taken from AU Footy 2012 – but others will have same enhancements) :-

aus1    aus2

(Left) New home page which aggregates latest results, upcoming games and the ladder filtered to your team.
(Right) New tabs in the Team viewer page – such as the ‘results’ tab where you can view all games played for the year and the current standing in the ladder.

Apart from new features (and what’s pictured above) – the LMD support in these apps essentially now means when you view maps and web pages – the external o/s apps are launched (rather than it being embedded in the page) – bringing the memory consumption down to the acceptable amount.

LMD Support Thoughts and Suspicions

For those that haven’t heard about LMD before – in a nutshell – there will be a bunch of low cost Windows Phone devices released this year – aimed at developing markets (and the lower cost end of the smart phone market – where Android has a massive share).  These devices will be restricted to only 256mb of memory – half as much as majority of existing handsets – and will have certain core features stripped from them (such as ability to use background agents).  One of the upcoming LMD devices already demoed is the Nokia Lumia 610 – and more are rumoured to be on their way (from manufacturers like Huwei).

I’ve been in two minds about LMDs’ – one being that it could be the vital ingredient to making WP7 a successful platform (by getting it into loads more markets + market segments previously ignored) which I’m all for – but secondly (on the flipside) – I’m really concerned about the potential fragmentation of the platform which will inevitably come about by this. 

It’s important to note that lack of fragmentation was one of the key things that MS more or less alluded would never happen on WP7 (and given as a reason why WP7 was a better dev choice than android) – so I’m a little surprised to see this happen. The net effect of LMD being introduced is also that many developers will need to go back and update + resubmit their app’s – simply because these devices are not 100% backward compatible .


Digging Deeper into (potentially unnecessary)  LMD Restrictions

When I went through the steps of implementing LMD support (thanks to a great article at Best Practice Tips for Delivering LMD Apps ) – I began to become a little more suspicious that this fragmentation (which developers would wear the brunt of) – was somewhat unnecessary. In fact – would have to say it’s either come about by a lot of laziness (or lack of time to do things properly) by Microsoft – or a direct intention to fragment the WP7 market and create the distinction of have’s and have-not’s.

If you read the article linked above – the crux of what no longer works reliably or at all (in order to ensure your apps don’t use more than the ~50mb allowed) fall upon three main areas – their Silverlight Bing Maps Control, the Silverlight Web Browser Control and lastly the clincher restriction – that background agents will not be allowed.

With the case of the Bing Maps + Web Browser controls – the message is – well hey you can use them – but we wouldn’t recommend it as loads of memory *may* be used (which of course you don’t have any control over as a developer) and your apps may crash. This struck me as quite odd – as surely Microsoft could have gone to the effort of enhancing these controls so they ‘degraded gracefully’ and worked within the new memory confines (by offering less caching/buffering/image quality etc – or at bare minimum – not crashing the app hosting it). Putting it back onto the entire developer community to update their apps (because they couldn’t fix their own components) – particularly with all the problems + delays with Marketplace certification – seems to me to be quite an ask.

With the background agents – particularly periodic tasks (the ones that can run every 30 minutes and do stuff like updating live tiles etc) – again it struck me as really odd and unnecessary that these were now no longer able to be used. Keeping in mind the memory limitations on developers writing background agents are extreme – only allowing developers to use 6mb of memory in the process – so surely these didn’t need to be dropped from the LMD platform.

I pinged Justin Angel (who I believe wrote the article above) – who had mentioned that basically it wasn’t because a single background agent (using ~6mb) would be an issue – it’s that if several of them were running at once then it would require a whole lot more memory (ie. 10 agents =~60mb).  So I asked why not just ensure only one can run at a time (as a LMD restriction) – ie run them one after the other – and was basically told there was some (strange) notion by Microsoft that developers expect agents to run dead on 30 minutes and 0 second intervals to be useful (and running them sequentially was not acceptable).

Personally I’m not clear of any existing App which would not function properly if an agent ran after 31 minutes or 29 minutes etc. instead of bang on 30mins 0 secs etc..   I’ve never ever had an end user request anything like this either – just that the agent runs ‘roughly’ every 30 minutes (as opposed to not running at all).

I as a developer would have welcomed background agent support in LMD at the cost of any reliability of intervals (and lack of parallel tasks) – without it I now have to go and update and resubmit an app which had no other issues whatsoever with memory – and without out it users can’t utilize a vital and important part of my app. Any claims by Microsoft that background agents shouldn’t be a core part of your app are seriously misguided and out of touch with what end users are not just asking for – but demanding.

 

Summary / Thoughts

My conclusion/thoughts around LMD are that Microsoft really could have done this quite a lot differently – and just didn’t think (or care) about the ramifications to developers – and to end users (who are likely going to be quite confused by this fragmentation).  As mentioned – the main issues for existing apps on LMD are not the apps themselves but the controls Microsoft provide with the platform – the bit they are supposed to be handling.

I strongly suspect (as with many dev related WP7 matters) there was little to no consultation with the ‘real world’ app developers about this by MS – and they locked themselves away in a room and tried to ‘second guess’ what they thought developers wanted (or that as suggested above – MS intended to fragment the market for some strategic reason).  I just can’t possibly see how any developer would have been OK with what they drummed up.

It’s probably too late for them to do a u-turn on this unfortunately – but I do wish they had just spent a bit of extra time in order to get this right.  I’m really personally excited by what these new low cost devices could do for the WP7 market share – so I hope this additional effort/sacrifice developers will need to go to will pay off.

my 2.56 cents

Written by mobilewares

April 7, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Ongoing mistakes by WP7 Marketplace Certification with Bing Maps

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The process of WP7 app certification can range anywhere from being simply and quick – through to requiring mountains of effort, frustration and a really long waiting times in between.

The problem is that not only the testing is just completely random/inconsistent (you’ll see tons of apps being certified which clearly fail to meet requirements) – it appears a large amount of the testers are really struggling to understand the certification rules themselves – and regularly and invalidly fail apps which are perfectly OK.

To give you an idea of my experience with this – over the past 12 months – I’ve published ~25 apps in marketplace (each having several updates/versions) – so that’s upwards of 75+ Marketplace certifications.  

Out of these – a large number have come back as failed  (perhaps  ~30%) – occasionally some for perfectly good/valid reasons (which I appreciate) – but vast majority has been due to a vague/ambiguously worded certification requirement being misinterpreted by testers.

This is clearly not good enough – and makes the process of releasing and updating apps hugely problematic (and quite often renders me helpless to quickly address other bugs/enhancements to apps which users are asking for).

 

The ‘Location Services’ related Certification Rules

One certification requirement however has without doubt caused me the most grief – the ‘location services’ privacy policy (section 2.7) – resulting in more ‘failed’ certifications for me than anything else (I’ve lost count of exactly how many – but perhaps has resulted in 10-15 failures for me).

Taken from the Windows Phone 7 Certification documents :
 

2.7.2 : The privacy policy of your application must inform users about how location data from the Location Service API is used and disclosed and the controls that users have over the use and sharing of location data. This can be hosted within or directly linked from the application.

and

2.7.3 Your application must provide in-application settings that allow the user to enable and disable your application’s access to and use of location from the Location Service API.

 

While you’d think for this I could simply implement this right once – and then ensure same functionality is applied to all my future apps/submissions (thereby guaranteeing I never get failed for that reason) – this is clearly not the case.

The problem is that it testers simply don’t understand this rule – and hence each one applies it differently – ensuring that no matter what has been done to correct a previous failed certification – a conflicting interpretation from the subsequent tester will result in yet another fail.

 

Bing Maps vs Location Services

The root cause of the above certification rule being necessary (with my apps) – is due to using the Bing Maps Control (as below). 

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Whilst using Bing Maps by itself has no bearing on the above rules (as you are not providing or querying the user’s location simply by showing the map) – the problem is that in order to position a map or place a drop pin – you need to pass in instance(s) of the  GeoCoordinate class (which is a basic struct containing longitude, lattitude and height).

As per all my apps – they already has the longitude/lattitude of these pins hardcoded in the app metadata – so at no point do I request nor need the users actual location – and each time GeoCoordinate is used by my app – I initialize it manually with static coordinates.

The gotcha is this GeoCoordinate class is located in the System.Device.Location namespace (in System.Device dll) – so you have to reference this System.Device in order to use Bing Maps with drop pins. 

This then quickly becomes a problem – as when you submit your app to the WP7 AppHub for certification – the automated ‘capability’ detection tool invalidly decides that your app is actually using ‘location services’ (when in fact it’s just using a basic class to pass in static coordinates).

When testers then go to certify your app – they then jump to the invalid conclusion that all the location services rules and additional requirements need to be followed (as per couple mentioned above). This is despite the fact that at no point is the app ever asking for nor utilizing the location services to obtain a user’s current location.

NB: While it’s possible that ‘internally’ the Bing Maps may access your current location (this is not something that is discussed or revealed in any documentation) – what’s 100% certain is that there is no ability for developers to control whether a user’s location is accessed by Bing Maps or not (as no such properties are provided). 

 

A recent example of how one of my apps was failed incorrectly.

As mentioned above – at no point do these apps in question (which use Bing Maps) – ever obtain or use the user’s location (at least not to my own code). Nevertheless – repeated certification failures on this point have led me to go completely overboard in ensuring that these requirements are met.

The most recent example was my app ‘NHL Fixtures 2011/2012’ (which like my other sports apps) – use hardcoded/static geo coordinates to plot the location of a sports venue on a Bing Map (and never get the actual user’s location).  

Last week – I submitted the first version of this app.  After 4 days it was certified and published to marketplace.  Then, a few hours later – an end user provided feedback that a couple of the internal hardcoded URL’s were pointing to incorrect pages (which were displayed in the hosted Web browser – several pages into the app). It’s important to note that while no actual ‘error’ was thrown – nor did the app ‘crash’ as a result – the information displayed was a different web page. 

As a result I quickly fixed these hardcoded URL’s and submitted an app update (ie. no code or functionality changes at all other than to show a different web page). In the tester notes (as I always do) – I explained the nature of the update and as a precaution – again pointed out all the ways in which I’d satisfied these above to location services related rules.

Today (4 days later again) – I received a ‘fail’ from marketplace (on above rules) – invalidly claiming that I’d ‘not provided a location services privacy policy’ and that location services ‘couldn’t be disabled from the app settings page’.

This could not be further from the truth – as these ‘in app’ screenshots below clearly show (from this failed submission).

 

Proof + Screenshots of the Marketplace Certification #fail.

Please see red circles for relevant functions.

Firstly an example of where Bing Maps is used in this app (NHL Season 2011/2012). As per comments above – the drop pin and map center locations are hardcoded into the app (and not derived from a user’s location) in order to show the following Bing Map :

image

 

To satisfy requirement 2.7.2 (requiring that a location services privacy policy is shown) – here is 3 x places links to the Privacy Policy Page IS SHOWN :

image  image image

and here is the location services privacy policy page that Marketplace testers claimed ‘didnt exist at all’ (ie. the page all these links above go to when clicked) :

image

The link on this page ADDITIONALLY allows user’s to view Microsoft’s Privacy Policy (in a web browser) – as it’s their Bing Maps control which may/may not use the user’s location.


Similarly – for requirement 2.7.3 – the ability to disable location services (the only logical way – which is to disable use of Bing Maps) – the following setting exists in the ‘app settings’ page :

image

When above settings is disabled – the following behaviour happens when you go to view a Map (it doesn’t load/use the Bing Maps until you re-enable this functionality in settings) :

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Just in case everyone misses it though – the following text is also present in the App’s description on Marketplace (and shown to users) :

 

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Given the overboard and comprehensive nature these requirements were met by me – you really have to wonder how this app was failed by Marketplace. Short of completely removing all Bing Maps functionality from my app – there’s nothing further I could have possibly done (every ‘i’ had been dotted and every ‘t’ crossed).

What’s more gobsmacking is how a tester could be under the impression that no privacy policy was shown nor were settings provided to disable location services.

Seriously #wtf?? marketplace – I provided no less than 5 mentions/links to the privacy policy throughout the app and description – how could they possibly have missed this or the app settings page.

 

Actions Microsoft need to take to remedy this ongoing issue.

 

As mentioned this is an ongoing and persistent problem for me (and no doubt many other developers using Bing Maps or location services) – and after nearly 12 months of WP7 Marketplace being around – it’s painful and frustrating that it’s still not be sorted out.  

The ability to quickly push out app updates as well as new apps is severely restricted – due to the long turnaround times by Marketplace (with the weekend – it can take up to 1.5-2 weeks to get a release out if it gets failed).  This poses a real customer service problem for me – as I’m unable to quickly respond to actual bugs/problems in apps by deploying updates – and of course limits ability to correctly time app releases.

It’s clearly not a case of ‘occasionally getting a bad tester not doing their job’ – it’s an ongoing mistake (likely due to internal policy/training of testers) which will keep happening on regular basis.

As such – I’d really like to see Microsoft take the following actions to try overcome it :

1.  Explain to testers that apps using Bing Maps need the System.Device DLL in order to place drop pins. (and doesn’t mean an app is asking for user’s location). Also explain this results in the invalid ‘location services’ capability detection on XAPs.

2.  Fix the App Hub submission process so that it correctly detects location services capability. That means (in more technical terms) – it needs to look for calls to the ‘actual API methods’ requesting this  – rather than just seeing if app references System.Device (as it does now).

3. In future – fix the API so that either the GeoCoordinate class is not inside System.Device – or simply fix the Bing Maps control so their are native methods to set locations without this class. ie.    .setLocation(float longitude, float lattitude) – not .setLocation(Geoocordinate l)

4. Finally – please clean up the sloppy and inconsistent work being done by testers. The screenshots above show just how badly the testers got this wrong.  I can’t begin to imagine what sort of shoddy work was performed by this particular tester – but if some form of audit process was applied to failed apps (requiring someone with more experience to confirm the fail) – then mistakes would be fixed before they impact the developer and delay their releases/updates.

 

 

Anyhow – that’s my 2 cents on this topic. I hope Microsoft really does address these issues soon.

Written by mobilewares

September 2, 2011 at 12:30 pm

WP7 App(s) Launch : 3 x New US Sports Apps

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To kick off the upcoming NBA (Basketball), NFL (American Football) and NHL (Ice Hockey) seasons for 2011/2012 – a bunch of new mobilewares sports apps for Windows Phone 7 have been published to Marketplace.

smallpc

NBA Season 2011/2012

Price : USD$1.49 (Trial Available)
Product Site : http://mobilewares.net/SportsNBA-WP7.aspx
Deep Link : view in zune / wp7 marketplace

smallpc

NFL Season 2011/2012

Price : USD$1.49 (Trial Available)
Product Site : http://mobilewares.net/SportsNFL-WP7.aspx
Deep Link : view in zune / wp7 marketplace

smallpc

NHL Season 2011/2012

Price : USD$1.49 (Trial Available)
Product Site : http://mobilewares.net/SportsNHL-WP7.aspx
Deep Link : view in zune / wp7 marketplace

 

These apps are built using an updated version (v1.9) of the mobilewares fixture engine – which provide a bunch of great functionality for keeping up with your favorite sports including :

– Nominate the team you follow (UI is customized around this team).
– View Schedules by Date/Week or by Team.
– View Embedded Scores/Ladder
– View Upcoming Matches.
– Browse Latest RSS News Feeds from Major Sites
– View Comprehensive Venue details with Maps
– View Additional Scores/Player/Team Stats Online
– Auto Converts Match times to Your Local Time.
– Auto Updates Fixtures as changes are made
– View Team Guides with dedicated Team Pages
– Hide Live Scores via Settings (for when you are watching delayed telecasts)

Some screenshots are taken from the NFL Season 2011/2012 product below.

nfl1  nfl2  nfl4

nfl3  nfl5  nfl6

The other existing apps which also use this fixture engine (AU Footy Fixtures, AU League Fixtures, MLB 2011 – see http://mobilewares.net/wp7apps.aspx) have also been updated to provide the new functionality added to v1.9 (which includes live scores/ladder, UI redesign, online/auto updating fixtures and other new bits) – please don’t forget to update to the latest version if you have one of these products installed already.

Please visit the mobilewares site – http://mobilewares.net for more information – otherwise please use the Zune (deep) links at the top of this post to view these apps in WP7 Marketplace.

Written by mobilewares

September 1, 2011 at 4:09 pm

AU Weather Pro v1.5 (for Windows Phone 7) Updated

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A new update of AU Weather Pro (v1.5) has submitted to Windows Phone 7 marketplace for certification.

This update addresses quite a lot of the things being requested in the user feedback I’ve received (both via the review system and via direct emails) – so I’m hoping there will be a lot of happy campers as a result (for those using it).

There’s a couple of major changes in this new version I wanted to mention…

First up – a lot of people asked if the Animated BOM Radars could be included. Although there’s a separate App – AU Radar – which is does a pretty comprehensive job of this (and incidentally only costs AUD$1.70 to get the full set of features) – many people felt it should be part of this App too.

So for the v1.5 version – I’ve now added ability to access 128km/256km local radars as well as the National (Australia wide) animated radars – for all 50+ locations offered by BOM. While there’s still a lot of other radars (like Doppler, ‘rain since’ and shorter/longer range versions etc) – I’ve kept things simple. Incidentally – those that do want the other radars can still also load up AU Radar too (I personally have both of these installed on my handset).

A screenshot of the radar page is pictured below –

wpr_radar

Next up a lot of people commented on (ok – “complained about”) the UI – such as it not being as ‘Metro’ friendly as it could be, it being a little cluttered and hard to read – and that the photographic icons weren’t very attractive (as they were low resolution only). Some folks even (quite rudely lol) commented that I’d used American spelling rather than ‘stralian versions (like ‘initializing’ instead of ‘initialising’ etc)

So for this release there’s been quite a big facelift of the whole UI. One of my sources of inspiration (apart from re-reading the Microsoft materials) – was an excellent blog post from Jeff Wilcox called ‘Metro Design Guide for developers 1.0’  (which had some awesome tips on some of the more subtle but visually important aspects of WP7 app design such as what sort of spacing to use around screens, appropriate text sizes/styles etc). 

From these and a lot of playing about with different designs – I settled on the following new designs – which I think does a lot to improve readability, more white space, more Metro friendly, and a lot less unnecessary chrome.

Here’s a before/after screen of the Observations page and below it the Forecasts page (before on left – after on right) – note that a bit more work was done post these pictures.

newobs

and for the forecasts –

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I also gave the forecast and 72 hour observation history graphs a bit of a rework (sorry don’t have original screens). These screens previously weren’t very theme friendly – so the new versions got a bit of a makeover too :

wpr_72hrgraph  

 wpr_fcgraph

One thing to note on the new version is I’ve completely dropped the use of the photographic icons as they weren’t available in the full resolution I wanted and hence looked pretty blurry(which incidentally came from the US gov weather services site – and originally used on the Media Center weather App I wrote in a previous life).  Instead – this new version uses the Metro icon set only – and superimposes them on top of your nominated theme accent color.

There’s also quite a few other spots which had minor (and more major) updates – which you can check out if you get the new version.

With regards to the live tiles – numerous o/s issues/bugs still exist making it sometimes unreliable (which unfortunately I’m not able to do anything about). I was really hoping the new NoDo update would remedy these problems – but after running with that it appears nothing was changed on that front. I’m now hoping maybe mango update will do better (but seeing as all questions/feedback sent to Microsoft about this topic, has just straight out ignored – I’m not counting my chickens).

Anyhow – I hope those using this app enjoy the new update. While there’s still a bunch of things I want to add in future to this product, and improvements I want to make – I think this update will address most of the things people have been asking for.

Thanks again to everyone who provided feedback (there’s been some 50+ reviews/comments on marketplace and have received loads of emails) – this was a great help – and keep them coming.

This app has also been the #1 top selling News/Weather app in Australia since a couple of days it was initially published in Jan/11 – and still is (now in April) – so thanks to everyone who took the time to evaluate and purchase it!

The new version should hopefully be published/approved in next 24-72 hours by Microsoft Marketplace (assuming they don’t find anything to complain about) .

Note : As per previous updates – if you’re running an earlier trial version AND you haven’t installed NoDo WP7 update – the marketplace App ‘update bug’ (the actual important bit of the NoDo which ‘must not be mentioned’) –  means you need to uninstall this App and reinstall the new version when it arrives.

Written by mobilewares

April 6, 2011 at 4:15 pm