Among the excitement of Windows Phone 8 and the Microsoft Surface tablet, Developer Appreciation Month marches onward. Today we have an interview with Adam Dawes, the developer of RSS Central for Windows Phone. We asked Adam about the challenges of developing an RSS reader for Windows Phone as well as his advice to any new developers looking to get into the Windows Phone development scene.
1. How did you get started with Windows Phone?
I’d been using Windows Mobile for quite a few years. It always appealed to me as the only real pocket computer available.
As I’m a professional .NET developer, I started spending a bit of time getting to know the Windows Mobile development environment, and ended up releasing several freeware games. One of these caught the eye of someone at Apress, and I was contacted and asked if I would be interested in writing a game development book for Windows Mobile. After a brief period of consideration I agreed, and Windows Mobile Game Development was released around 9 months later.
Just as the book was finishing, Microsoft announced their plans for Windows Phone 7. This was actually a bit of a nuisance at the time as it meant my book was pretty much obsolete before it had even been published!
Fortunately it did still make it into print, and Apress wanted to follow up with a Windows Phone 7 Game Development book straight after, so with hardly any break at all, I took a deep breath and downloaded the WP7 SDK. The WP7 book was released in December 2010, and if you would like to read more, you can find plenty of information about it here.
Although Windows Phone is clearly more a consumer device than a computer, offering far greater restrictions than Windows Mobile, I still think it’s a superb platform. Being able to develop for it with C# and Visual Studio (surely one of the best development environments available — and for free, too) is a joy — and I can’t understand why this alone hasn’t resulted in greater take-up from developers: a huge number of developers could pick it up in literally minutes.
2. What phone do you personally use?
I use an HTC Trophy, which I’ve had since the day it was released back in November 2010.
I still think it’s brilliant, even though it’s starting to get a little battered around the edges. It’ll certainly keep me going until WP8 is released though (I think I’ll go see what Nokia have to offer once that happens!)
3. What was your biggest challenge in developing RSS Central for Windows Phones?
The biggest challenge I always find is *finishing* the project. I had a just-about-working version of the app on my phone for months, but it was nowhere ready for release (you could only add new feeds by editing the source-code, for example).
For ages I chipped away at it each evening until finally I was happy that I had a v1.0 ready for public consumption. The first version was well-received, except that everyone hated the logo (it took several attempts to get that right!).
I haven’t experienced any real challenges since then. The app has steadily evolved over the last 18 months and there’s still more to do, but it’s been a much more gradual process than at the start.
I’m very happy with the feedback I’ve received since its release, it now averages 4.5 star with nearly 500 reviews. If you’d like to find out more, the app can be downloaded from here.
4. Do you have any ideas for any more apps or games on the way that you’d care to share with us?
I do, but I’m not quite ready to share any details just yet. :-)
I have a game that my six-year-old son and I have been working on together (he’s a fountain of ideas!). It’s probably about 50% finished, but once again the challenge is to keep going and get it ready for release, which is a struggle at the moment. I need more hours in the day, I think!
5. Monetization: in terms of driving revenue, can you tell us about your experience, your strategy, and the overall potential? (We know this is a touchy subject and confidential issue, but we appreciate any details
you’re willing to share)
I decided to release the app with a low price (US$1.29, GBP0.99) and a fully-functional trial mode.
The trial really does have everything present, the only difference being the occasional reminder message asking you to upgrade to the full version. I always find trials that restrict the functionality to be self-defeating: how can I try it if it deliberately doesn’t work properly?
For my, this approach seems to have worked pretty well. I’ve converted about 20% of trials to paid versions, which I’m pleased with. It sadly hasn’t paid my mortgage off just yet, but it’s still well worth the effort.
6. What do you want to see in Windows Phone 8?
I want to see a platform that offers easier access to developers from other platforms so that they can write games and apps for WP8 alongside Android and iOS apps, without having to rewrite from scratch.
I guess this will involve some C++ support and native device access. It’s a real shame that so few of the fantastic-looking titles released for other platforms are ported across, but faced with having to write against in C# from scratch, I can understand the reluctance.
With this in place we could start to see game engines like the Unreal and Unity engines becoming available, which would be fantastic for the platform — particularly if we can get .NET wrappers so that the engines can be used from C# code too.
Other than that, I’d love to see NFC support, text-to-speech and speech recognition APIs, removable storage, an upgrade path for existing WP7 devices, and the ability to back up data on the device so that it can be restored after a hard reset or on to another device (I need to take my Plants vs Zombies data to WP8!).
As I write this, the WP8 Summit is tomorrow, so I guess the situation will be much clearer by the time anyone reads this!
7. Do you develop for other ecosystems and how does Windows Phone development compare to those?
The only other platform I develop for is Windows, which is clearly a very different environment. I don’t have experience of Android or iOS to make comparisons with.
8. If you could give one tip to fellow Windows Phone developers, what would it be?
Pick a project, finish it, and get it out there. I’ve been amazed time and time again with what can happen when you release projects into the world and let people use them. Hopefully your apps will get recognized enough that you’ll get reviews and feedback; the good reviews are nice, the bad reviews not so nice but often still useful: we all have to learn to improve ourselves and our code so that the next project can be even better.
Don’t be afraid of releasing apps for free. Sometimes they can give you back things more valuable than money.
Enjoy developing for Windows Phone! :-)