10 Burning Questions with John Hasson, Developer of Sell My Books

Today for our developer showcase we’re joined by John Hasson, an experienced app developer who has worked on multiple platforms. John has lots of experience and several tales to relate in his development for Windows Phone, including several apps under his belt. His newest is Sell My Books, an app designed for college students to help take some of the sting out of selling expensive books back to various stores that allow for buy back.

1. How did you get started with Windows Phone?

I originally bought an iPhone because I was working on an app that required a camera and the iPod touch at the time didn’t have a camera.  You can still see the app here: http://iloveme.johnhasson.com/  (It should be free on the iPhone app store if you can find it… I couldn’t find it.  Maybe they deleted it because I stopped paying $99/year?)  Programming on the iPhone was not fun for me, I’d been doing .NET/C# for a very long time, so it felt like trying to force myself to drink kool aid, I’ve been through several versions of iPhone.. my last was iPhone 4.  Then the Lumia 900 was released.  I figured the worst that would happen is I would use it for a few days, hate it and then return it while paying the restocking fee.  It took me 3-4 days to get used to the interface, but now I truly like it.  No more iTunes (huge plus).  I’ve sold about 1/2 of my apple stuff.  The other half is waiting till I can get a Windows 8 tablet, then I won’t need my iPad or my Macbook pro (which runs windows 7 exclusively).

The biggest reason I bought the WP7 was that I wanted to try making some apps for it.  Getting started on it was very fast for me since I already had C# skills, I originally had this idea to make animated gifs from a set of images (you can see my first pass before I started adding the gif encoding logic on the iPhone app mentioned above.).  My desire to truly learn objective C was overcast by other activities (mainly that all my other work was in C# and PHP).  I was unaware of any real overlap of objective C skills besides programming for apple — that’s the biggest reason I never really made more than the one app on the iPhone — app is a generous term, too.

My very first WP7 app  (Calorie Search) was a Calorie database: I downloaded a public database of calories off of data.gov, wrote a program to find pictures of the various item, then put it in a local SQL database (I tried it just in XML, etc.. and it was way too slow).  Then I added some basic search, submitted it to the apphub and waited about a week.  I was approved.  It was essentially an “Ode To Bacon” — when you see the screenshots you will know what I mean.

My second app (Wiggle Gifs) was a variation of the animated movie gif creator that had been bugging me for 4+ years.  You can see the results here: http://imgur.com/6hcdnhttp://imgur.com/vxSWE, and here http://imgur.com/OnL7O — The app took me a long Saturday and much loud music to write.  This is what I love about coding on the WP7, I can make something actually useful in a weekend.  So now I make them for fun.

The latest app (Sell My Books) lets you scan books and find out what Amazon and SellBackYourBook.com will pay you for it.  I show what it is going for used so if you decided you want to try and sell it directly on amazon for more, you can.  I saw things like ScoutPal and thought.. that would be kinda cool to run to a surplus store and see if there were any hidden gems.  So I wrote the app for that.  I still haven’t made it down to the local surplus store to check…

2. What phone do you personally use?

Lumia 900 Black — My wife after playing with my Lumia ditched her iPhone and now has a white Lumia 900 (she wanted pink.. but they don’t have one yet)

3. What was your biggest challenge in developing for Windows Phones?

None yet.  That’s why it is so awesome to code for it :)  If I have to give a different answer, I suppose I’d have to say that there aren’t as many users of it yet.

4. Do you have any ideas for any more games on the way that you’d care to share with us?

Yes, feel free to steal some of these since I don’t have time to do them all.  [This should be most of them, every-time I have an idea, I email it to myself.  Some of these may be silly/stupid, others would be extremely useful..]

  • Make a 3d mario style platform gamer that uses some of the same techniques you saw in the gifs created above, to have the entire game feel 3d via “wiggling”
  • Connect directly to SQL server databases to query them.. (Requires hacking MSSQL protocol and writing it by “scratch”)
  • Starcraft 2 Youtube Channel Watcher (a couple of apps like this have already been made.. so no real need anymore)
  • Webcam connector/monitor app
  • Make a bunch of silly trivia apps (Who was data: (a) Android (b) data is a thing, (c) a chart.. etc… )
  • Reverse phone look up (This will probably be my next app.  Let you search google/bing and then if you still can’t find it pay ~$1 per lookup)
  • How many calories guessing game (show pic, guess how many calories it is… )
  • Advanced graphing calculator
  • Drum / Guitar app (I haven’t seen a good one on wp7 yet)
  • Cat Piano (cuz my kids love the one on iPhone..)
  • Timer app (I think there already is a decent app for wp7, so I may skip this one too unless I can think of something to make it better)
  • People counting app (there is one, but it is very basic)
  • Fake Taser app (flash camera led/ vibrate, etc.)
  • How to tie ties (Onassis Pinned – best tie know ever)
  • Live Video feed of your desktop to your phone (for remote control, watching movies, etc..)
  • Audio recorder
  • Electoral Map What-if app
  • Color blind test
  • Scary sounds (for your pets – edger, vacuum, lawn mower, hair dryer.. etc)

5.  Monetization: in terms of driving revenue, can you tell us about your experience, your strategy, and the overall potential?

I have made almost $2 in advertising revenue since I started a month ago.

6. What do you want to see in Windows Phone 8?

  • Screenshots on non-unlocked phones
  • Ability to specify custom snooze times (5 min, 10 min.. then an hour+???.  at least add a 15 min and 30 min in there…)
  • Better event sound customization. (You can’t add custom sounds for New text/IMs, voicemails or emails– you are stuck with whatever is on the phone)
  • Fix apphub (my account is still messed up from when it expired, and I can’t renew my dev account without using a different windows live account… — would be better if they just let you renew an expired account)  It is a pain to have one live account for apphub and another for all the other stuff.
  • Upgrades on existing hardware
  • Blinking led on the side so I don’t have to turn the screen on to see if I have a message

7. Do you develop for other ecosystems and how does Windows Phone development compare to those?

If you have C# skills, they transfer to WP7 nicely.  I had never touched silverlight till I tried making a WP7 app.  I don’t like it much, but it isn’t horrible — I am still getting used to it.  Visual Studio is a great IDE, so it is nice to be able to use that for both WP7 and Desktop/Web apps.  I’ve never coded on an android so I can’t say anything about it.  Coding on an iPhone was very convoluted and not straightforward (thank goodness for books).  To put it into perspective, I could show my 12 year old enough to make her own wp7 app in a few hours.  I could not do that on the iPhone.. the learning curve is much steeper and it requires much more commitment to get something out the door using native tools.  That is probably why so many “easy iphone app maker” solutions are there.. because it isn’t easy.  Compared to iPhone, WP7 programming is extraordinarily easy — and since I do this for fun in my spare time.. thats kinda a big deal.  I’ll do the hard stuff at work, and “easy” stuff for relaxing.

8. If you could give one tip to fellow Windows Phone developers, what would it be?

It is easy to make a crappy app.  It is hard to make a good app.  Make good apps when you can, but don’t feel guilty for making a crappy one every now and then.  It is a nice break.

9. Tell us one thing that most people don’t know about you.

15 Years ago I could do a 360 dunk.

10. (Silly Question) Favorite Olympic sport?



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  • Similarly, I went through the trouble of learning objective-C and the iOS sdk, through two books (very high quality books I must say), but never coded with it. Reason: I changed my mind about buying a mac mini – being a windows person, I had promised myself after paying off my credit cards, a mac mini would be my reward so that I would finally put to use the time spent learning the above.

    But I just couldn’t see myself wanting to enter into the apple/mac ecosystem, just to write apps for one of the popular mobile platforms, and I’ve always despised itunes. And then I bought a lumia 900. I think I’ll re-buy the c# books I threw away a long time ago and start on that path.